Cooperatio or The Way to a More Efficient Support of Science
On 1 January 2022 was launched a new system of support of scientific work at the Charles University. Preparations for a systematic and meaningful participation in this programme have been, however, underway at the First Faculty of Medicine of the Charles University for a year. What does this new conception of basic financing of institutional science at the Charles University amount to? Who will be included and why did the system change?
Cooperatio replaces the previous Progres system, which was used to finance university science up to now. Recently, however, it had become apparent that the Progres system is not fully compatible with the manner of internal evaluation of creative activities at the Charles University. An international panel of experts moreover criticised the university for excessive fragmentation of scientific disciplines and a lower number of excellent results with the first author from the Charles University than one can find at other comparable universities. Therefore, the university decided to adopt a new system of scientific disciplines and a new scheme of collaboration between its individual parts.
The new system will bring about a development of scientific disciplines
Cooperatio will distribute the majority of financial means of institutional support for long-term systematic support of research organisations. The university expects the new support system to provide better conditions for the development of scientific disciplines, further improve the quality of science, and foster better connections with postgraduate education. ‘It is the joint interest and responsibility of the university and its individual faculties and institutes to support the quality and development of scientific disciplines which have a presence at the Charles University. The new scheme of support should aid this effort,’ commented Professor Jan Konvalinka, Vice Rector and the main initiator of this change, on the formation of the Cooperatio system.
Only future evaluations of creative activities will show whether the new system of scientific disciplines will benefit the university. Already now, however, the Cooperatio is starting to systemically support communication and collaboration between the faculties and institutes of the Charles University where science is pursued within the particular scientific disciplines. The university has been for some time noting a large fragmentation of scientific disciplines: it is something for which our alma mater loses points in all evaluations, including international ones. Evaluators of science always note that excessive fragmentation of science and research leads to a suboptimal use of human, material, financial, and intangible resources. That is why the Charles University focused on support of internal cooperation within the university – which is after all symbolically expressed also in the name of the Cooperatio programme. The new programme is, however, also poised to tackle other issues, such as overlarge administration.
Administration should be trimmed by creating optimally sized scientific teams. In collaboration with faculties and institutions, the programme therefore defines 43 areas of science which include all scientific disciplines present at the university. Each such area includes all teams which work in that particular area. Why 43? This is a compromise between a large number of too narrowly defined areas and excessively large areas that would include very diverse scientific disciplines.
The board is led by those who achieve better ranking
Part of the earlier system of support of university science has been preserved, however, such as for instance the five-year cycles of programming (the first is thus for 2022–2026). Each area of science will have its own board led by a coordinator. Represented in the board will be all areas and disciplines which aligned themselves with that area within the university. The basic criterion for composition of the group is the level of participation of their members in science and evaluation of their research results. Coordinators are recruited from those faculties or institutes whose scientific work achieves the best evaluation.
In the beginning, until spring 2022, the main task of both the coordinators and the boards is to formulate the goals of development of their respective areas of science for the first programming period. Formulated goals will replace the current application into the Progres programme. In addition to regular sessions organised by the coordinator, each board will also meet once a year with rector or vice rector and evaluate its activities so far.
Evaluation of science areas will take place as part of evaluation of creative activities in the form of yearly monitoring of trends in creative activities at the Charles University. A general comprehensive evaluation will take place in the third and fourth year of the programming period, while in the last year of the cycle, an interim evaluation should take place. Authors of the Cooperatio hope that this should significantly reduce the administration burden linked to the often-criticised annual reporting. A simple and straightforward evaluation will focus on actual inter-faculty communication and collaboration. Faculties’ obligation to present annual general overview of finances spent remains in place: the rectorate will check adherence to legal limitations (regarding auxiliary and operational costs as well as transfer of finances into the fund for specifically earmarked resources, the FÚUP).
Allocation of finances remains similar
Financing of areas of science will remain similar to the past Progres programmes. The rector will each year inform the deans and heads of institutes of the estimated sum for their faculty/institute. The dean, together with coordinators of areas of science, will subsequently submit to the rector a proposal of allocation of these resources to particular areas, eventually scientific disciplines that may be set apart. What is new is that it will be possible to use a smaller part of these resources to support faculty-wide instruments of support of science and research. In this case, too, the proposal will have to be confirmed by the academic senate of the faculty and each faculty will have the option of adopting longer-term rules for such proposals.
To prevent any disruption to existing interdisciplinary collaboration that took place within the framework of the Progres programme, the university has also been rethinking support of collaboration between the areas of science. It will be provided in well-justified cases based on simple applications (in the form of a competition administered by the rectorate) or else the collaboration will be organised by the faculties and financed from the abovementioned faculty-wide source for the support of science and development. Nevertheless, Cooperatio as a basic institutional programme is not a grant competition for resources intended for concrete projects. The university will, however, spend within its framework a large part of institutional resources intended to support long-term systematic development. Let us just note that the sum earmarked for the Progres programmes, which Cooperatio follows up on, was for this year nearly 1.6 billion CZK.
Development of areas of science and improved evaluation
The faculties and university institutes had registered for participation in particular areas of science already in May 2021. Subsequently, they prepared nominations for the boards of particular areas of science. Proposals regarding their composition were, after adoption by science boards of all the institutions concerned, submitted in June 2021 to the Science Council of the Charles University, which endorsed them without reservations. After coordinators of the individual areas of science prepare the abovementioned plans, the next step will be an adoption of rules for distribution of finances from the Cooperatio programme within each faculty or institute, as required by the principles of the Cooperatio programme. Starting in October 2021, participants of the Cooperatio, i.e., Charles University employees and postgraduate students, have been gradually incorporated into the relevant areas of science.
In contrast to the past, the university is coming up with a system that will link the basic institutional support of science and system of evaluation of quality of scientific work at the Charles University. It is hoped that the Cooperatio programme will bring into focus the current state of various areas of science and the university and their assessment. Principles of the Cooperatio programme can be found in the Rector’s Measure no. 18/2021 in Czech and in English on Charles University website.
Petra Lišková, Vice Dean for Grants (ed)