Accepted Paper:

Excellence policies; a user's perspective  


Jessika van Kammen (Academic Medical Center Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

In recent years, concerns have been raised about excellence policies in science leading to unfruitful competition and the accumulation of scientific credits in the hands of few. But what is the role of excellence policies within the entire range of science policies? Policymaker talks back.

Paper long abstract:

Qualifying science as excellent plays a major role in (inter)national science policies and funding schemes, and in institutional policies such as thematic profiling, talent development programmes and investments. As an STS-educated senior policymaker in a public research institute, I will analyse practical, theoretical and normative aspects of the notion of excellence in science policies. Rather than putting excellence on the suspect bench, I will argue that a focus on excellence provides precious room for manoeuvre for research that displays the "wow!"-factor. Alternatives will be discussed as well.

Public funding agencies are under growing pressure to maintain and legitimize their budgets in terms of economic and societal impact. As a consequence, funding for research with no manifest out-look towards return on investment is vulnerable. In this context, how does the classification of science as 'excellent' provide for a boundary object? And how does this shape funding schemes, selection procedures, and the content of research proposals?

A focus on excellence drives the policies of research institutes as well. In such professional organisations, next to policymakers, scientists themselves might be highly involved in developing policy instruments. This steering paradigm of 'the professional in the lead' fits well with the notion of fostering excellence. The involvement of scientists in institutional policy making is however no warranty to prevent marginalization of certain groups of researchers and scientific disciplines.

Finally, I will explore what normative issues are at stake in, on the one hand, excellence policies and on the other, in questioning excellence policies in science.

Panel T020
Governing Excellent Science