Sunday, January 14, 2007

Three Billion Down the Drain?

Last Thursday the Icelandic Minister of Education and the rector of the University of Iceland unveiled a , previously very much secretive, plan aimed at bringing the University of Iceland amongst the top 100 best universities in the world. (Yes, you read that right!)

The heart of the plan is an increase in governmental funding to the University of Iceland amounting to 640 million ISK a year over the next five years (roughly 7 million euro a year). It is not completely clear to me yet what milestones the University of Iceland will have to meet to justify this investment of tax payers money. What is, however, abundantly clear is that the main competitor of the university I am working for right now (Reykjavík University) is much more powerful now than it was only four days ago, provided they will make good use of the extra funding. If previous events are anything to go by, this is very unlikely to happen in computer science unless the CS department at the University of Iceland is forced to hire according to the qualifications of the applicants.

Iceland being what it is, even your truly decided to enter the political arena for a few minutes by writing the following email message:

Subject: Financing Universities and Research

Dear Minister of Education,

It is an excellent idea to increase the level of funding for universities and research in Iceland. It is also a positive step to have some form of financing that is not linked to specific, and often narrow, project work. This is done in many other countries with great benefit to the level and quality of research. It is, however, very unclear at best that donating a large sum of money to HI the way the Ministry did yesterday is the best way to promote international quality research in Iceland.

Financial support should go to those individual researchers, research centres and laboratories where high quality academic research has been performed consistently, irrespective of the university where they are located. Allocation of resources should be made based on merit, as established by fair and objective peer review. Centuries of scientific work have shown that this is the best, if not the only, way to ensure that whatever support is available be used in the best possible way.

By way of analogy, I invite you to consider the choice of an investment fund where to invest some of your savings. Before choosing one, you would most likely examine the interests that specific funds have guaranteed their customers over the last few years. Why are political decisions on how to invest in research not based on the same principles?

Sincerely Yours,

Luca Aceto

Do I expect to receive any answer? Certainly not, but, as present head of the CS department at Reykjavík University, I felt like I had to write to the Minister on behalf of my colleagues.

I'll write a post with my first views on the HoD job over the next few days. Not surprisingly, the executive summary will be that the job is a huge time sink :-(

No comments: