Danish research policy recommendations are out internationally

Research grants are getting larger and larger. However, the granting foundations should keep the amounts down. This is the recommendation voiced by head of department Peter Munk Christiansen among others in Nature Human Behaviour.

2019.06.27 | Mia Ulvgraven Nielsen

Peter Munk Christiansen, professor and head of the Department of Political Science. Photo: Aarhus University

In the new issue of Nature Human Behaviour, Professor Peter Munk Christiansen and a number of other active Danes within the field of research policy recommend that the research funds reduce the number of large grants and instead divide their joint pools into smaller portions.

The recommendation is based on a survey conducted among Danish researchers, which was carried out in collaboration between the think tank DEA, the Young Academy and the Independent Research Fund Denmark. The survey was published in 2018 when Christiansen was chair of the Independent Research Fund Denmark.

The report “The Ideal Research Grant” concludes that most researchers prefer small or medium-sized grants of DKK 3-10 million. This applies to 73 per cent of the respondents. Only 19 per cent would like a larger grant. The picture looks the same whether you are male or female, an assistant professor or professor. Small or medium-sized grants are seen as having the greatest impact on the next research or career move.

This is useful knowledge in an international context, according to the authors. In their comment in Nature Human Behavior, they encourage research foundations all over the world to proactively involve the researchers in a discussion on the types of grants that are needed for researchers and science.

“Which amounts are considered small or medium-sized can vary from country to country, but the overall findings of the Danish study can most likely be transferred to large parts of the Western world where researchers and universities are highly dependent on and compete fiercely for external funding,” says Christiansen, professor and head of the Department of Political Science.

In Europe as well as North America, there is an increased focus on large grants concentrated in the hands of a few top researchers. This means that young researchers will find it increasingly hard to establish themselves, and that potentially groundbreaking research will have inferior terms since the foundations become less willing to take risks when the size of the payouts increase.

“More small and medium-sized grants can very well yield a better outcome for research in general, and at the same time create better conditions for talent development and diversity in research areas and approaches. It is crucial that the foundations pay heed to the effect of different types of grants, not least for the sake of basic research,” says Christiansen.

Read the comment in full in Nature Human Behaviour.

Read the original Danish report.

Reseach policy