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We need greatest possible return on research

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at meeting for funding councils and foundations in Copenhagen 8 March 2012.

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Smart allocation of funding

What can Denmark get from 200 billion kroner? That was the headline of an article in the newsletter Monday Morning last week.

The article looked at the potential of Danish foundations. The theory was that if Danish foundations gave proportionately as much as American foundations, then in just 10 years, they would contribute with 200 billion kroner to the development of Denmark.

I find it intriguing that it could be possible to increase Danish donations to that kind of amount. To give you an idea of what 200 billion kroner could get you, the article highlighted that it's the equivalent of 86 opera houses.

But that is an equally good example of what we must avoid. That's not because I have anything against opera or opera houses. But we don't need 86 of them.

Nobody wants to develop the same instruments for the same areas. All want their efforts to matter. We must talk to each other. And learn from each other. So that we're not all singing the same song.

And in that context, I believe it is crucial to strengthen collaboration between private foundations and the public system. Our goal is the same; the greatest possible value creation.

Increase in donations

Allow me to make something very clear. Danish science benefits from a unique corporate structure in Denmark, where private foundations have ownership of several of our most successful companies.

Many of the foundations are trusted to invest part of their surplus in the advancement of Danish science and innovation. And the public funding system benefits from the massive private investments we have seen in recent years.

We've seen a significant increase in donations from the large industry-driven foundations. The largest foundations donated 5.6 billion kroner in 2011, which is three times as much as in 2009.

According to Professor Steen Thomasen from CBS, the prognosis sees a similarly high level this year. Likewise, he estimates that that private donations will account for 5 per cent of the total Danish research effort.

Invitation to more cooperation

The private foundations are autonomous of the public funding system. But that does not mean that they are a self-contained system. The private foundations also depend on a well-organised public funding system.

Funding excellent research is more efficient when an excellent education system is in place. When young talents are fostered. And when the researchers have access to state of the art research infrastructure.

There are many players in the field of research funding. Which is a good thing. But it also raises some particular challenges. I think it is important that increased private funding does not lead to a disintegrated research and innovation system where everyone is trying to do the same in the same way.

Therefore I would like to use this meeting to open a dialogue with you about a better collaboration regarding the Danish funding system as a whole. It is important that we are aware of what others are doing. And important that we communicate with each other.

I have three concrete proposals:

  • Firstly, I see great potential in the area of research infrastructure, which I think we should utilise together.
  • Secondly, I would like to invite you to a dialogue on future investments in defined areas. We have knowledge we want to share, for example RESEARCH2020.
  • And finally, I would also like to invite you to participate in the process for creating the first Danish national innovation strategy.

Allow me to elaborate these proposals.

A roadmap to research infrastructure

We have established a solid knowledge about the need for research infrastructure for Danish research. And the ministry has completed a national roadmap for research infrastructures.

This is not paperwork developed and drafted at Christiansborg or at an office in the ministry. The Roadmap has been developed on the back of close involvement of relevant stakeholders in the research world.

There has been broad multidisciplinary and institutional involvement in examining and prioritising the national needs for research infrastructure.

In that regard, there have been more than 150 concrete proposals from the Danish research world. After careful evaluation, that number has been reduced to 19 concrete research infrastructures. But it has only been possible to publicly fund 6 of the 19.

This preparatory work could be of a great advantage to the Danish foundations. This is an area where private foundations could benefit from the groundwork done in the ministry. And I recommend that foundations interested in investing in infrastructures look at these opportunities.

A closer dialogue on research

And now to my second proposal. We are just putting the finishing touches to the RESEARCH2020 catalogue, which identifies the most promising research fields for Denmark's future.

RESEARCH2020 is based on thorough hearings, dialogue processes and analyses that involve contributions from ministries, research councils, companies and other relevant stakeholders from a broad section of society. It has provided great insight into Danish research needs. We would naturally like to make this knowledge available to the foundations.

There is an open invitation from our side. We would like to facilitate strategic talks about future investments in defined areas. And I would very much like to hear your views for such talks.

Learning of course also goes both ways. One of the government's goals is less bureaucracy in research. We must remove all unnecessary paperwork and make the application procedure as simple and speedy as possible.

I know that many foundations appreciate as little paperwork as possible. Even though we have other, possibly more stringent obligations and documentation requirements – I am certain that the public foundations can learn something here. Because researchers must use their time on research and teaching – not on long, difficult applications and administration.

Involvement in the innovation strategy

Finally to my third proposal. Last week I unveiled the government's plans for the new national innovation strategy. Our ambition is to develop Denmark's positions of strength and unique innovation potential to a leading global position in areas requiring global solutions.

The first task in the strategic work is to outline a vision for Danish innovation potential. The strategy cannot and will not be developed by locking some politicians in a room together until they figure something out.

The innovation strategy must have a broad foundation. And it must be developed in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders – not least educational institutions and the business community. And of course, foundations.

There is a need for contribution from the foundations in both the development process and in implementation. And I hope you will accept this invitation to participate.

Research and education

I would like to give some additional input to an area where I noticed that foundations could be even more relevant.

Today the private foundations are mainly focused on funding research projects, professorships, travel grants and infrastructure. However, there is also a potential for including education in their funding instruments.

Also in light of many of the large research projects are luring the best researchers away from teaching. It is crucial to protect and strengthen the important connection between research and education.

Universities' first job is to educate talented young people that will go out and contribute to society. I also believe that foundations could play a greater beneficial role earlier in the education process, for example, with talent development in school and high school.

It is important that consideration is also given to the first links in the food chain. So therefore could education be considered more in some of the research activities that you support.


Finally I would like to promote internationalisation. Because research by definition is international. Public research funds are being used with an international dimension to a greater extent. I know that this is also of importance to private foundations.

This beneficial dimension could also be strengthened. Denmark must look beyond our borders to find inspiration and new ideas. We should be a magnet for brilliant students and researchers. And we must cooperate with global research environments.

This becomes even more relevant as we know that during the Danish EU Presidency, the framework of the world's largest research programme Horizon 2020 must be drawn up, which has a proposed budget of 600 billion kroner.

European cooperation is the key element in the programme to address the major challenges of our time. Now more than ever, we need the best brains working together across borders.

Government investment in research

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.

Investing in research and innovation is a crucial prerequisite for providing for Denmark's future. It provides quality education. It helps build a foundation for future jobs and welfare. And it attracts foreign companies and investment in Denmark.

Donations from foundations are important in this context. They represent a very important contribution to the development of Danish society. And I find it difficult to hide my delight at the increase in research donations.

You can do something we cannot. I also believe we can improve our communication – sharing our thoughts and future plans. And to go back to my introduction – I am sure there is no one here interested in 86 opera houses. That no one wants to double-up on the same work.

I would therefore like to invite you to take part in an even closer dialogue. This dialogue and cooperation is unlikely to grab the same media attention as the construction of the opera house. But I am paving the way for a historic partnership.

We need you. We need each other. And we have the same goal: To get the greatest possible return on our investments. To strengthen Danish education, research and innovation. And to secure future growth and welfare for Denmark. Nothing less will do.

I look forward to even greater collaboration in the future. Thank you.

last modified Jan 11, 2022