The European countries provide no standard solution to research evaluation systems. The design of such systems, and how they are motivated, will depend on specific national contexts for the organization and funding of research. However, mutual learning and inspiration among countries is not only possible, but also observable in the dynamic development of such national systems. The aim of this paper is to present a short overview of typical considerations, solutions and experiences with research evaluation systems in Europe, thereby contributing to mutual learning and inspiration on a wider international basis. The presentation will mainly be based on examples from the Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and United Kingdom. Some important focus points are the use of expert panels, peer review, and metrics, and the possible combination with or separation from performance-based funding systems. A preliminary overview is given here.
The best known and longest running national research evaluation system is that of the United Kingdom. In seven major research assessment exercises, beginning in 1986 and concluding so far with the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the UK has used expert panels and peer review of individuals and their outputs to determine institutional funding for the universities. Funding allocation was originally the main purpose of the exercise. Gradually, the method has become the more important purpose. The REF is now primarily perceived and discussed as a research evaluation system.
The combination of the two purposes, research evaluation and funding, is not widespread in Europe. We find the same combination only in Italy, Latvia and Lithuania. The Czech Republic has a plan to implement a similar system serving both purposes. Sweden deliberated to do the same a year ago, but decided to keep its present indicator-based funding model. Sweden thereby continues to follow most European countries in using performance indicators rather than panel evaluation with peer review for the purpose of institutional funding. Examples of other countries with indicator-based institutional funding are Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden. Apart from keeping costs down, the typical motivations for indicator-based solutions are increased transparency of the criteria for funding, enhancing the element of competition in the public funding system, and the need for accountability coupled to increased institutional autonomy.
A few countries run national research evaluation systems for other purposes than institutional funding. The purpose is instead to provide strategic advice at the national and institutional level. Examples of countries with national research assessment systems without funding implications are the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. The evaluations occur at intervals of several years and typically involve international panels of experts in all cases where direct judgment of research quality is concerned.