There will be significant growth in the number of students entering higher education in the coming years. Furthermore, there is broad political consensus that Norway’s investments in research should be escalated. At the same time, a significant number of employees at the institutions will be retiring. Many professional resource pools need more employees to be able to perform their current teaching and research assignments. Recruitment of researchers will therefore represent one of the greatest challenges moving forward.
Despite this, there is no national policy for researcher recruitment. No effective analysis of the future need for research competence in Norwegian society has been carried out, nor of what happens to doctoral candidates after they present their thesis. We also do not fully understand how attractive our graduates are abroad, or how appealing the Norwegian employment market is to researchers outside Norway. Overall, we know far too little about researcher mobility and research mobility. Consequently, we also have no effective plan for dimensioning and arranging research training.
We know from our own work that many young researchers experience lengthy temporary placements on the road to a far-from-guaranteed permanent academic post at a university or hospital. This points to a number of significant challenges relating to research funding and recruitment, as well as facilitation and dimensioning of research training.
Recruitment of researchers
Academic career paths are often characterised by lengthy periods in temporary short-term posts. We need to reduce the use of temporary appointments. One problem relates to the fact that the universities and university colleges insufficiently adhere to the principal rule of permanent appointments designed to provide opportunities for further qualification under the current post structure and promotion schemes.
It is important to emphasise that completed postgraduate studies qualify candidates to take up an associate professorship position within the specific discipline, and that while the candidates are not fully qualified senior researchers, there are no reasons why they should not continue to develop within the secure frameworks of a permanent post.
The Norwegian Association of Researchers will endeavour to establish more permanent posts and clearer recruitment and career policies in the research sector.
In order to ensure that the best talents embark on research careers, the career prospects and pay and working conditions must be attractive. To this end, the Norwegian Association of Researchers has formulated a dedicated policy for PhD candidates that includes objectives and proposed measures to improve quality and through-put.
We have also prepared a specific policy for postdoctoral research fellows. As we are finding that postdoctoral posts are often misused either as purely temporary project research posts or to top up teaching and supervision needs at institutions, we are also keen to ensure that clear requirements are established for the content of postdoctoral posts. It would be unfortunate if excessive use of postdoctoral research fellowships made the time needed to qualify for a permanent post even longer. In this context the Norwegian Association of Researchers also recommends a study of whether to establish a new academic post – a tenure track – in order to increase predictability for recruits.
The Norwegian Association of Researchers will strive to secure national harmonisation of the quality requirements for promotions between academic posts, and to ensure that good post and career structures are established. It is important to provide opportunities for alternative career paths, in order to ensure that competence and specialisation are financially rewarded in the same way as a management career.
Research training – objectives and dimensioning
The objective of research training must be to fulfil society’s collective needs for researcher competence. This requires dimensioning of research training to be based on actual analyses of professional requirements for research competence.
In the case of the research sector (HE, institutes and health authorities), professional facilitation and overall dimensioning are primarily determined in the political and institutional arena via grants, programme announcements and internal prioritisations. It should therefore be possible to align dimensioning of research training with the qualitative and quantitative needs of the actual sector. However, there appears to be a widespread view in the HE sector that doctoral candidates are not fully qualified researchers, and that they must be further tested as postdoctoral research fellows and in other temporary posts before being deemed qualified to compete for a permanent academic post. The fact that young talents, and perhaps in particular young women, are abandoning research careers does not bode well for recruitment to research and higher education in future.
There are no qualifying needs analyses for research-qualified personnel outside the R&D system. While qualified researchers can be extremely valuable to management, organisations and the business community, it is often the general skills acquired from lengthy studies and research work rather than the specific researcher competence that are sought-after. However, a postgraduate qualification involves a high degree of professional specialisation, and research training is an extremely expensive form of specialist competence that takes a long time to acquire. The Norwegian Association of Researchers is keen to ensure that the purpose of postgraduate training remains to secure effective researcher competence, and wishes to preserve the distinctive character of research training. Employers outside the R&D system seeking general rather than research competence should source this competence in other ways than by adapting research training.
Consequently, the Norwegian Association of Researchers has requested a research-based and independent survey of the need for research competence in different disciplines and sectors in Norway, and an expert needs analysis that can be used to accurately dimension research training in Norway.
Internationalisation and researcher mobility
Europe 2020 is the follow-up to the Lisbon Strategy and the EU’s overarching strategy towards 2020. Prioritisation of knowledge-based growth is a key element of the strategy. The Norwegian Association of Researchers will actively respond to developments in international research cooperation – particularly in the common European Research Area (ERA) and developments in bilateral and multilateral programme work on joint announcement of research funds.
Institutional cooperation is a key component of the internationalisation of higher education. Stimulation of joint activities will reinforce internationalisation of Norwegian research and higher education. The Norwegian Association of Researchers will follow developments in the Bologna process and the EU’s Europa 2020 strategy, as well as developments in the global market for higher education.
The Norwegian Association of Researchers believes that measures are required to make it easier for employees and students at higher education and research institutions abroad to gain access to the Norwegian employment market. Researchers must have opportunities to secure satisfactory funding of research residences abroad, and to participate in international conferences and meetings.
The Norwegian Association of Researchers believes that the rules and procedures for international researcher mobility should be simplified. In this context we recommend the establishment of a dedicated public office for researcher mobility that could combine functions relating to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration so as to ensure more effective case processing and accurate information flows for arriving and departing researchers. The Norwegian Association of Researchers constantly learns about apparent unequal treatment and inaccurate information relating to residence permits, tax, national insurance, pensions and other social benefits.
Consequently, the Norwegian Association of Researchers is striving to ensure that:
- The equipment and resource situation is strengthened to enable Norwegian researchers to actively participate in international collaboration and be perceived as attractive partners.
- Research collaboration between Norwegian and foreign researchers is reinforced through measures to promote academic mobility among Norwegian researchers wishing to move abroad and for foreign researchers arriving in Norway (exchange, study residence, collaboration, returning home).
- Schemes are set up to protect researchers’ rights within international mobility.
- Schemes are established to enable researchers in all sectors to receive support for research stays abroad.
- Schemes are established that in terms of resources and pay support individual researchers’ participation in the EU’s framework programmes and payments under ERC applications.
- Teacher exchanges and joint development and adaptation of educational programmes are encouraged.
- The terms of employment for employees residing abroad in an academic context are improved.