2. October 2023

Do Centers of Excellence create lasting value for posterity?

The DNRF has published two new analyses that shed light on the total value our Centers of Excellence create over time.

At the Danish National Research Foundation, we have funded more than one hundred Centers of Excellence with a lifetime of up to ten years and a budget of up to DKK 10 million annually. The centers must strive to create research and foster talent at a high international level. But there are also special expectations: that excellent research will create lasting value in the form of, for example, a changed research culture.

Normally, the foundation follows the grant holders only while the centers are active, and we do not know much about the impact that Centers of Excellence create in the long run. Therefore, the two new analyses will provide a more comprehensive picture of this value creation based on the following questions:

  • What lasting value do the Centers of Excellence create?
  • What facet of the Centers of Excellence primarily drives this lasting value?
  • How does the Centers of Excellence format promote excellent research?

Centers of Excellence drive research frontiers.

The Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy (AU) has prepared one of the two analyses, which provides a picture of the impact of the three earliest rounds of the Centers of Excellence (1993-2005) and of how well the Center of Excellence format promotes excellence.

The report concludes that:

  • The impact of the centers’ research remains strong to this day.
  • The centers are particularly good at producing the highly cited research that drives the research frontier.
  • The way the centers are designed is very suited to supporting excellence. With a few improvements, the design is the same as the one used by the foundation today.

The report also concludes, somewhat surprisingly, that more than half of the centers find that private companies and the public sector still use innovations created in the centers, despite the fact that during the period, the focus in the university world was narrowly academic. In general, the foundation’s experience is that interest in innovation accelerated through the 2000s to its current high level. Note that the foundation does not require this.

We are thrilled to learn how the Centers of Excellence that started up to thirty years ago have left such a significant legacy – and it humbles us in relation to current centers whose actual importance, we have to believe, will likewise be fully clear to us only after many years.

Søren-Peter Olesen


Talents from early centers have created important capacities in today’s research and industry.

The DNRF has also conducted a study of how former Centers of Excellence have contributed to areas that today enjoy political attention, and we have selected centers within quantum science, catalysis, and economics, and technologies such as power-to-X and quantum computers.

The study shows that:

  • The centers have made a remarkable difference, not least as a result of early capacity building of high international quality; and
  • The direct impact is particularly the result of the centers’ training of skilled and highly specialized talent. For example, researchers trained in catalysis centers 30 years ago flocked to industry, and today they occupy leading positions in university research programs in areas such as power-to-X .

Both analyses are mentioned in the foundation’s Annual Meeting publication 2023.
Please follow the link to see the two analyses.


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