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External funding — A number of foundations would pay a larger portion of the universities' costs for administration and rent, if they can document what the money is used for.
It quickly turns into an expensive business when universities accept research grants from private foundations.
None of the foundations fully cover the cost of a research project for things like electricity, chemicals, payroll, IT, rent, financial management and communication activities.
The universities pay these costs from a pool of basic funding, which would otherwise have been used for its own strategic research initiatives.
Most recently, the renowned Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen got into financial difficulties after the researchers were too successful at getting funding for the many different research centres. The centres are to be based at the institute and will tie up its basic funding.
If we can get some documentation for what it costs universities in indirect expenses to house privately funded research, I think that the large foundations will be willing to cover some of the expenses.
Thomas Sinkjær, Director of Research at the Lundbeck Foundation on altinget.dk
Several foundations now say they are willing to pay a larger portion of that part of universities’ costs that are tied to externally funded research projects.
Thomas Sinkjær, Director of Research at the Lundbeck Foundation writes in a featured comment on the news site Altinget.dk “that he is not blind to the fact that it has costs for universities to carry out the research that is supported by private foundations.”
“The biggest challenge is not a lack of dialogue or understanding, but that no one really knows anything about the scope of the costs. The next step should be to clarify the actual costs for universities, so that the debate can take place on a qualified basis. They have succeeded in doing this in Sweden,” writes Thomas Sinkjær and continues:
“If we can get some documentation for what it costs universities in indirect expenses to house privately funded research, I think that the large foundations will be willing to cover some of these expenses.”
Former Prorector for Research Thomas Bjørnholm, who is now research director at the Villum Foundation, has also entered the debate.
Money should not disappear out of the university’s back door when our money comes in through the front door.
Thomas Bjørnholm, Director of Research at the Villum Foundation on Altinget.dk
He writes in a featured comment on Altinget.dk that the Foundation would like to pay an appropriate portion of these indirect expenses. But he emphasises the importance of knowing what the money is to be used for.
Several foundations express at the same time their concern that the government would take the opportunity to cut back basic funding, if the foundations pay a larger portion of the ‘boring’ operating expenses.
“We believe that our role is to supplement and complement the public system. The contribution from the foundations should only be a supplement to public grants. Money should not disappear out of the university’s back door when our money comes in through the front door. Quite the contrary. Increased competitive funding calls for increased basic grants,” Thomas Bjørnholm writes.
According to UCPH rector Henrik Wegener, the challenge is that there is not enough basic government funding to leverage the increasing donations from foundations.
A realistic rule of thumb would be for each time universities win one krone to do research, a second krone needs to be brought in for the overheads.
Henrik Wegener, Rector of UCPH on Altinget.dk
The Novo Nordisk Foundation, for example, has announced that it will quadruple its annual payments over the next five years to DKK 5 billion a year by 2023.
He also writes on Altinget.dk that universities need to be better able to document the overheads that need to be covered.
“A realistic rule of thumb would be for each time universities win one krone to do research, a second krone needs to be brought in for the overheads.”
Henrik Wegener praises the foundations for their readiness to discuss the challenges.
The former minister for research Søren Pind set up a new forum for research funding before he stepped down. The universities’ indirect costs from foundation-financed research will be discussed in this forum later this year.