Norway’s Ministry of Education and Research has sacked the entire 12-member board of its research council over serious financial mismanagement allegations.
The agency, Forskningsrådet, which funds the nation’s research projects, has also been ordered to stop awarding grants for now in areas that are likely to decline. The board has been replaced with a new chair – Kristin Halvorsen, Norway’s former finance minister and education minister – and just four other members. They will oversee the agency until the end year and launch an external assessment of its finances.
Forskningsrådet has admitted that it will be 275 million Norwegian kroner (£23 million) short this year. That deficit is expected to grow to NOK 1.9 billion next year and NOK 2.9 billion in 2024 if no measures are taken to rein in spending.
More money has been pledged than the research council, said the country’s science and higher education minister Ola Borten Moe. For the last several years, the research council has received just under NOK 11 billion annually. Its economic problems are not because the government has allocated less money for research, Borten Moe emphasised. Rather, they are the result of lack in control and management.
The events have caused concern and unrest among Norway’s researchers. ‘Hard to understand this as anything but a complete disaster for the people of Norway,’ tweeted Curt Rice, president of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Nils Charles Prieur, a hydrologist and planetary scientist at the University of Oslo, complained that the Norwegian government has not recognised the possible repercussions of freezing new research grant calls for the rest of the year. He said 90% of postdoctoral students and researchers in the country only have two-year contracts, so potentially halting funds for six months poses a ‘significant hurdle’.
Siri Birkeland, an evolutionary biologist at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, was about to apply for a research stay abroad when Forskningsrådet abruptly closed the call for proposals. ‘They don’t even know what will happen with the applications they already received,’ she tweeted. Depending on the outcome, Birkeland suggested, the Ministry’s actions may end up costing her a year of salary and overseas research experience.