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University of Copenhagen
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UCPH took half of all private research funding in Denmark

The University of Copenhagen is the best in Denmark at attracting private funding. Prorector Thomas Bjornholm says that academic freedom is not being curtailed by these funding billions

Almost three billion kroner – about DKK 250,000 per scientist. This was what the University of Copenhagen received for research from private foundations in the period 2012-2014, according to new figures from the Ministry for Research and Education. In total, universities in Denmark got DKK 5.8 billion in private funding for research over the two year period.

UCPH took half of the cake

With DKK 2.9 billion, UCPH took half of the total research ‘cake’ and is therefore, by far, the largest recipient from private foundations – both absolutely, in terms of kroner received – and relatively, per scientist.

“The main thing is that we have really talented researchers at UCPH. The money is given in open competition, so the strongest candidates take the funding,” says Thomas Bjørnholm, Prorector for Research and Innovation at the University of Copenhagen.

Government funding cuts to education programmes means that the university must continue to attract large amounts of funding from private foundations. And this, even though competition is tough from other Danish universities, says Thomas Bjørnholm:

“We have less money coming in from the public purse – so we need to find new hunting grounds for funding if we are to continue to develop. In some areas, we have all the prerequisites: We have talented international names, and UCPH is the fifth best university in terms of getting EU funding from the European research programmes. So even if other Danish universities intensify their hunt for funding, there should be enough space for us to continue receiving a good overall share.”

Still arm’s length principle?

The health and natural sciences in particular have been adept at getting hold of private funding. Alot of it. Health science research received DKK 1.4 billion from 2012-14, while natural sciences received DKK 848 million.

“We don’t want to become a scientist hotel, doing whatever others will pay for,” Prorector Bjørnholm.

Especially one private foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, has been generous in funding. Other funding giants include the Villum Foundation, the Lundbeck Foundation and A. P. Møller Foundation, which have all given, and continue to give, large amounts to UCPH research.

The A. P. Møller Foundation, for example, donated DKK 655 million to the Maersk Building at Panum in what is intended to be a driving force in health research.
Prorector Thomas Bjornholm has no fear that the huge amounts will infringe upon the university’s academic freedom:

“There have been no compromises whatsoever in terms of academic freedoms. We are delighted to receive appropriations. But we make sure that the freedom of research is not restricted.”

The report shows that UCPH receives more in external funding from private foundations than from government. Can you be too dependent on private contributions?
“Yes, but we are not. We don’t want to become a scientist hotel, doing whatever others will pay for. We will therefore still focus on the balance between basic funding and competitive funding. But private funding is an important supplement, and we are pleased that the funds allows us to deliver lots of good research,” says Thomas Bjornholm.

So we will not see cases where, for example Novo and Lundbeck introduce non-disclosure agreements and gag-orders as we have seen when UCPH carries out research for government ministries?
“The non-disclosure agreements in the service to authorities is an unfortunate issue that we have addressed, so that it does not repeat itself. We already have clear guidelines on what proper and free research is. Private foundations such as Novo and Lundbeck have always wanted full transparency in research,” says Bjørnholm.

Humanities and social sciences lagging behind in private funding

While science and health researchers got a total of DKK 2.28 billion in private funding, the picture is quite different for the humanities and social sciences. Humanities received DKK 90 million during the period 2012-14, while social sciences got DKK 94 million.

It is, according to Thomas Bjornholm, not surprising that the two research fields receive less support because they rarely contain expensive parts of their experiments. But UCPH hopes to make the two areas more relevant for private funding.

“It goes both ways: Foundations are becoming more aware of what, say, the humanities can do. And we (UCPH, ed.) will meet them halfway and explain why these fields also should receive funding,” says Prorector for Research and Innovation.