Bio4Energy has received good marks for leadership, research and development and outreach, in an evaluation by Swedish authorities aided by an international panel of experts. The evaluation essentially targets the scientific quality and "strategic" leadership of the research environment in its first five years in operation, 2010-2015. It feeds in to an assessment of Bio4Energy by its main sponsor, the Swedish government, which is expected to decide by the end of the year whether to grant funding for second operational period for the research environment in 2016-2021.
In total, 43 government-funded "strategic" research environments (SREs) were evaluated by five government bodies and an encompassing evaluation report was forwarded to the Swedish government 30 April. It is understood that Bio4Energy was in the top third of research environments which "currently meet the objective of achieving the highest international standard", according to the report entitled Evaluation of the Strategic Research Area Initiative 2010-2014.
A look at the fine print of the evaluation report reveals that the research output of Bio4Energy is "[in] the frontline", which was the highest possible level of rating given by the panel of experts, the two other two levels being "reaching international standards" and "not convincing so far".
Moreover, the use and benefits of the research environment have "developed with great satisfaction", according to the evaluators. This is the highest ranking after "developed satisfactorily" and "not developed satisfactorily". Also, collaboration that had been spurred thanks to Bio4Energy was deemed to be "effective in several dimensions", which is a medium ranking between "effective in all dimensions" and "not effective so far".
However, on the evaluation criterion "integration with education" Bio4Energy, and many others among the 43 SREs, received an "under satisfactory development” rating. The reason for this is not entirely clear since, at the same time, the research environment and the host university at Umeå, Sweden, receive praise for having launched an undergraduate programme in Bioresource Technology and a Bio4Energy Graduate School for PhD students, among other things. It seems, however, that the evaluators would have liked to see that SRE funding having been used for the "renewal" of existing undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at the partner universities.
"We will show more clearly that our researchers take part in undergraduate education. We also will increase the number of contacts with industry and work to get the Bioresource Technology Programme [launched in late 2013] established", Sommarin said regarding what Bio4Energy might do to further improve its record on education.
"We will boost it further with inspirational lectures and more project-oriented work", she added.
"Importantly also we will internationalise the [Bio4Energy] Graduate School and create ties with PhD students in labs [around the world] with which we would like to have an exchange", Sommarin said.
The evaluators did not look only at the progress of Bio4Energy as a whole, but also assessed the "strategic leadership" of the research environment by its host university: Umeå University (UmU). The evaluators rated the performance of the university leadership as follows:
- Strategic management and use of the SRE funding: Excellent
- University outcomes and excellence: Good
- Added value of the SRE funding instrument: Excellent/good
The evaluation report says: "Out of the university management teams interviewed [in Stockholm, in December 2014], UmU was among the most convincing in terms of presenting a clear strategy focusing on research quality, support of ‘risk-taking’, innovation and the leveraging of regional as well as university strengths….
"The SRA funding programme has clearly given added value in terms of developing research quality and collaboration between scientists, universities and other sectors of society".
The evaluating authorities were the Swedish Research Council; the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research; the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning; the Swedish Energy Agency and; the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems.
The international expert panel had "vast experience of university and research management", according to the evaluation report, and included the following experts:
- Professor Tuula Teeri (Chair), President, Aalto University, Finland
- Professor Erik Arnold, Chairman Technopolis, University of Twente, the Netherlands
- Professor Mary O'Kane, Consultant and New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer, UK
- Professor Kalervo Väänänen, Vice Chancellor, University of Turku, Finland
- Professor Neil Geddes, Science & Technology Council, UK
- Professor Katherine Richardson Christensen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
The following organisations issued a press release on the results of the evaluation: