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Updated objectives and enhanced application review

The Research Council of Norway will be announcing funding for the fourth round of Centres of Excellence (SFF). In this connection, the application assessment process has been revised and the objectives of the scheme updated.

The fourth funding call under the SFF scheme is planned issued in autumn 2015. The new centres are expected to have their start-up in 2017, and will replace the eight centres funded in the second round (SFF II), which will be concluding their activities in 2017. As in previous years, the application process will be conducted in two phases. Phase I will comprise a prequalification round to select a limited number of centre proposals that will be invited to submit final applications in Phase II.

Earlier this autumn, the Research Council asked for input on the application assessment process under the SFF scheme. A roundtable conference with representatives of leading research groups and an open online consultative process led to the submission of 18 recommendations.


“We have revised the model for application processing in Phase I based on the recommendations that emerged from this process. Three international expert committees comprising top-level researchers with experience in research management will be given full responsibility for deciding which applicants will proceed to Phase II. Peer reviewers who are only assessing one application will not submit their opinion before Phase II. This will provide better balance between the need for an overall view and a strategic scientific perspective in the assessment process,” explains Anders Hanneborg, Executive Director of the Division for Science at the Research Council.

The three committees encompass the humanities and social sciences, life sciences, mathematics, natural science and technology, respectively. Interdisciplinary applications will first be reviewed by the members of one of the committees, and this committee will determine whether the application should be discussed in special interdisciplinary meetings with members of one or both of the other committees.

In the prequalification round, the main concept for the centre’s research is to be described in five pages. A complete description of the centre and its activities, not to exceed 15 pages, will not be submitted until Phase II. Each complete application will be assessed by international peer reviewers with specialist expertise.

Updated objectives

The SFF scheme is the Research Council’s most prestigious instrument for promoting excellence in research in Norway. Under the coming funding round, even greater importance will be attached to the capacity of centres to conduct pioneering research with great potential for achieving ground-breaking results:  

  • An SFF centre is to generate results with the potential to advance the international research front.
  • An SFF centre is distinguished by its focus on pioneering, ambitious ideas with major potential to lead to ground-breaking results. The centre addresses complex research questions that require coordinated, long-term research activities within or across disciplines to achieve its objectives.

Assessment of the centre director and principal investigators

The CV for the centre director is to highlight his or her ten key publications in the past ten years. This corresponds to the “Ten-year track record” to be submitted with grant applications to the European Research Council (ERC). This will ensure that weight is attached to the centre director’s most important international results. The research management experience of the centre director will also be assessed.

Importance will be attached to the most important scientific production of the principal investigators at the centre as well. Experience shows that centres tend to benefit from having more than one strong, visionary scientist.  Not all principal investigators need to have extensive experience. Younger, highly promising researchers can also fill the role.

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