Research may suffer in clash of two ministers

December 22, 1995

University rectors in Denmark are concerned that university research will suffer under the widely different plans and ideas of the ministry of education and the ministry of research, both of which are heavily involved in university research.

"The outlooks of the two ministries are vastly different," said Kjeld Mollgaard, rector of the University of Copenhagen. "Administering university res-earch as two different areas in mutual combat is destructive."

Public funding of research amounted to DKr6.8 billion (Pounds 802 million) in 1993; almost DKr2 billion was channelled by the ministry of education to the universities as basic research grants that the universities use autonomously. The ministry of education's basic research grants are designed to ensure research breadth and quality in all areas as a basis for teaching; from 1998 grants will be issued following a quality assessment of recent years' research work.

Against the background of a national research strategy, currently under preparation which will indicate the needs and potential of Danish research over the next 15 years, the ministry of research will support target research that is said to be relevant for the future of society.

Mr Mollgaard said: "I cannot envisage high-quality basic research that is not relevant for society; nor can I envisage relevant research that isn't of high quality."

"Close co-ordination of research policy is extremely important," said Sven Caspersen, rector of the University of Aalborg, who also sees a danger of ministerial competition. "It would be better if the two ministries co-operated more at meetings with the rectors rather than the rectors going to one ministry then the other."

Henrik Tvarno, rector of the University of Odense, adds: "A competitive situation can't be avoided when two ministries deal with the same area."

The Copenhagen rector is also concerned about the universities' future autonomy. A ministry of research working group proposal to reconsider the right of institutions to dispose of basic research grants is regarded as an attempt by its minister Frank Jensen to strengthen the national research strategy. Mr Jensen says he has neither plans nor the opportunity to do this.

Education minister Ole Vig Jensen says he is aware of the need for a fine balancing act. "I will see to it that we keep in step. There don't have to be conflicts when two ministries have different plans for university research. I agree that it is necessary to maintain freedom in basic research."

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