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From insurance to basic research

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at Danish National Research Foundation's 20th anniversary in Copenhagen 28 October 2011.

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Dear board members. Ladies and gentlemen.

Allow me to pose a question: What is the parallel between insurance and basic research?

Insurance and basic research both deal with the unknown and are an investment in the future.

It was therefore very appropriate that the proceeds from the sale of the State Institution for Life Insurance back in 1990 became the financial cornerstone for a national research foundation.

The Act on the Danish National Research Foundation was passed by parliament on June 6th, 1991. There was great support from nearly all parties for the foundation.

It was a brave and visionary parliament that backed the new foundation. Visionary, because they believed in basic research as a key investment in the future. Brave, because they dared pursue the unpredictable.

Basic research is by nature unpredictable. No one knows where it will lead. That's what makes it so impressive!

But it is also a prerequisite. Because to create something new, you must have the courage to try the untested path.

This courage was thankfully present back in 1991.

It's no secret that today, all factions of parliament greatly recognise the Foundation's work. And the Government is delighted with such widespread support.

20 years of success

The Danish National Research Foundation has had 20 years of success.

The chairman has just mentioned a number of the Foundation's results. They are significant results.

Especially with regard to the contribution of the Centers of Excellence to respected international journals. With regard to the large number of patent applications from the centres. And with regard to the fact that the Centers of Excellence are – and have been – a true nesting ground for the top researchers of the future. Many of the centres have also achieved a world class status within their research fields.

And we need these beacons of example. They have a strong knock-on effect on Danish research. And they attract international recognition.

I know that increased internationalisation is a key issue for the Danish National Research Foundation. As it is for the Government.

Denmark must be an open nation, utilising the opportunities presented by globalisation. Denmark should be a magnet for brilliant students and researchers.

We may not have the best weather. And our language can be a bit of a mouthful. But we have other attractive qualities and need to turn on the charm to retain international talent.

International talent must not face closed borders.

  • They should be met with appreciation – not suspicion.
  • They should be met with opportunity – not bureaucracy.
  • They should be met with a warm welcome – not a cold shoulder.

We must also cooperate with global research environments. And we must look beyond our borders to find inspiration and new ideas. Collaboration breeds knowledge.

Confidence in the research world

The former Soviet leader Lenin is said to have coined the mantra: Trust is good. Control is better.

I don't have the same approach. For me, trust is good. More trust is better.

I applaud the core value of the Danish National Research Foundation: that trust promotes creative research. And I believe that this approach has been a significant factor in the foundation's success.

The Government also takes the same approach. We will ensure – during the allocation of new research funds – that the universities will get more basic funds and better opportunities for longterm planning.

Basic funds must safeguard basic research and the supply of high-quality international education.

Strategic research must be channelled into far fewer focus areas.

And the focus areas should mirror Denmark's positions of strength.

Political regulation must be limited to the strategic level. We must show trust in research. And we must show trust in the researchers.

Investing in research and innovation is a crucial prerequisite for providing for Denmark's future. It helps build a foundation for future jobs and welfare. Quality research environments provide quality education. They also attract foreign companies, create jobs and investment in Denmark.

The Government is determined to – and will in the long term – expand the current research funding level of 1 per cent of GDP.

The international Barcelona objective for public investment in research must be a baseline – not a boundary.

This Government has inherited some serious challenges from its predecessors. It will not be possible to achieve everything we want. But I have my mind firmly set on an agreement that
minimises cutbacks.

We need more basic research. Not less.

Great challenges of the future

The Danish National Research Foundation has turned 20 and is no longer a teenager. But I hope and believe that the Foundation still has a teenager's boldness and courage. For the future presents many challenges.

Climate change, lack of clean water, an energy crisis, epidemics, explosive demographic changes. These are just some of the many challenges and big questions the world faces today.

Many of the answers are provided by research.

We must couple Danish core competences with global challenges. Denmark has many global positions of strength, which we have not developed fully.

The Government wants to increase the innovation capacity in Denmark. And we will draw up Denmark's first real innovation strategy. Which I am sure you will come to hear much more about.

Basic research as life insurance.

Ladies and gentlemen. Let me conclude with a final question. What is the difference between insurance and basic research?

  • Insurance is borne by a fear of the unknown – and tries to minimize costs.
  • Research is borne by curiosity about the unknown – and tries to maximize benefit.

It was a good idea to switch out the State Institution for Life Insurance with the Danish National Research Foundation. It was an investment in the future.

Investing in research helps lay the foundation for future jobs and welfare. Research helps further science and the world. It provides the basis for future discoveries and technologies.

The Danish National Research Foundation plays an important role in this regard.

Congratulations on your 20th anniversary.

last modified Dec 08, 2021