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Excellence and the Aarhus declaration

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the conference "Excellence Revisited" in Aarhus 20 April 2012.

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Distinguished guests, friends of science.

Thank you for the Aarhus Declaration on Excellence. This declaration and the conference these past days have brought up some very important issues for Europe.

No doubt. We need science. And we need excellence in science.

The Danish physicist and Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr, whose research was crucial for understanding the atom and the development of quantum mechanics, is a brilliant example of excellence.

Niels Bohr said the following about research:

"How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress".

The core of research is examining the paradoxes, problems and the unknown. And the desire to expand our realisation is the driving force of researchers and research.

I hope that over the past few days you have encountered some paradoxes, so that we might progress.

In my opinion, excellence is essential – especially in times of financial constrains.

We must ensure a value chain in the knowledge triangle from second-to-none education, and state-of-the-art research to innovating new products and processes.

Excellence in research

Excellence is important for basic research. The best and brightest minds should be given the right conditions to develop a solid knowledge base for Europe.

BUT – and just as important – excellence is a key factor in enhancing and improving our foundation for competitiveness, growth and new employment. It will pave the way for new and innovative solutions.

Excellence is also vital for solving grand societal challenges. The grand societal challenges of our time – such as climate change, the ageing society and achieving a green economy.

But I believe that we must bear in mind that meeting the needs of society must not be at the cost of excellence in science.

As you might know the important task during the Danish Presidency is to chair the negotiations for the framework of a new strong European research and innovation programme; Horizon 2020.

Horizon 2020 has a challenge-approach. At its core are excellent science, competitive industries and better society. It's about development of future and emerging technologies. It's about supporting innovation and investment in research. And it's about tackling societal challenges for a better society.

The negotiations regarding the budget for Horizon 2020 will not be finalised during the Danish Presidency.

But with regards to content, Denmark wants to stress the following priorities:

  • Ensure greater connection between research and
  • innovation
  • Maintain excellence as the leading criterion for the EU's
  • research and innovation programmes
  • Ensure a strong and independent European Research Council.

And we also want to provide a significant simplification for users of the framework programme. There must be an end to bureaucratic application procedures and lengthy response times. We need less bureaucracy and more research.

Research in Denmark

I would also like to mention the Danish Government's ambitions for the research area.

The government is firmly convinced that investing in research and innovation is a crucial prerequisite for providing for Denmark's future. Research investments help lay the foundation for future jobs and welfare.

Therefore we want to maintain and eventually expand the current level of public research funding of 1 percent of GDP. The Barcelona Objective of investing 1 percent of GDP in publicly-funded research must be a baseline – not a boundary.

And when funding research the government will strive to ensure that universities get more basic funds and better opportunity for strategic and long-term planning. Basic funds will ensure basic research and thereby high-quality education.

As Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education I have committed myself to provide more autonomy and less regulation for universities and research institutions.

We want to create the right conditions for improving the quality of our education, research and innovation systems.

We will also make a historic investment in education so that 60 percent get a higher education. My motto is: we can never be too educated.

The right conditions

By stimulating researchers to imagine the unimaginable we can hope to be prepared for the challenges ahead. And at this conference the framework conditions for excellence has been discussed.

Elements such as:

  • Trust and freedom
  • The long-term perspective
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • The recognition and nurturing of talents,

has been brought up. These are all important elements for giving the best researchers and best minds the chance to pursue their research ideas.

The right conditions for excellence in research, innovation and higher education will prepare us to solve unknown challenges.

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

Research is borne by curiosity about the unknown. And to create something new, you must have the courage to try the untested path.

Of course it is hard not to make an occasional error. It's almost impossible. But we must leave room for this also.

After all, as Niels Bohr also said:

"An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field".

I want to thank all the contributors to this conference: all the distinguished speakers, the moderators and the partners behind the conference.

Special thanks go to the members of the International Advisory Board, who have contributed indispensably to the drafting of the Aarhus Declaration.

I want to thank Aarhus University for hosting this
important event.

And last but not least I would like to give a special thank you to the students of Aarhus University who have helped during this conference.

Bring the declaration forward

To sum up: Investing in research provides the basis for future discoveries and technologies.

It helps lay the foundation for future jobs and welfare. We need science. And we need excellence in science.

The Aarhus Declaration on Excellence is an important contribution to the pursuit of excellence in science. And the line of thinking in the declaration needs to be followed at European level and at national level.

It is essential that Europe strengthens its science base, with excellence as the guiding principle.

And I can see elements from the declaration which can be used when modifying our own systems.

I want to commit myself to bringing this declaration forward, and I will inform my European colleagues of your work at the Competitiveness Council meeting in the end of May this year.

The clear message in the declaration is an important voice from the research communities of Europe.

I feel humble that we - eight years after the last Danish presidency, where we laid the foundation for the ERC, which today is the engine in pan European research –to day can receive this declaration and promise you to caring the torch forward.

Denmark once again does our part in promoting excellence in research; whether it is for the students in the auditoriums, the scientist in the labs or for the politician in the governments.

Excellence is the way forward.

Thank you.

last modified Jan 11, 2022