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From ‘very good’ to ‘world-leading’

ICIS and UNU Merit want interfaculty graduate school

MAASTRICHT. The Maastricht institutes ICIS and UNU Merit received much praise after a joint VSNU research audit. In the area of ‘relevance to society’, they are ‘world-leading’. There are weak points too, such as the small number of research grants and the complicated organisational structure.

Because ICIS (International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development) is too small for its own audit and many research themes are similar to those of UNU Merit, it was decided to examine the two institutes together. The Dutch-German committee of four professors zoomed in on the period 2010-2015.

The two institutes cover the broad field of ‘human development and sustainability’ in their research, with themes such as governance, innovation and technological change, migration and sustainable development. According to the committee, the quality is ‘very good’. In the five concerned, the number of publications per year has risen from 59 to 100. In some domains, including ‘innovation economics’ and ‘technology and industrial dynamics’, the institutes measure up well with the London School of Economics or Harvard University.

For ‘relevance to society’, ICIS and UNU Merit received the highest score: ‘world-leading’. The reason was that in the 376 research projects in the period examined, were wide-ranging and diverse in nature. They vary from a peace-building programme in Kyrgyzstan to an evaluation of the rescue operations of refugees in Afghanistan. It stems from the aspiration to improve the humanitarian situation in developing countries and to create a more sustainable world.

The PhD programmes of the institutes constitute a negative point. PhD students take too long to complete their research or drop out. Of those who started in 2008, one third stopped prematurely. In the UNU programme, especially for professionals, as much as three quarters did not make it to the finishing line. Another negative aspect is the fact that half of the revenues comes from contract research and only 1 to 6 per cent from NOW or EU research grants.

The two institutes intend to work more closely together in the future. They want to strengthen their position within the UM by setting up an interfaculty graduate school. A good idea, according to the committee, although this will not make the organisational structure any simpler. There will be two institutes that are connected to two universities (UM and UNU) and to two faculties (SBE and FHS). All of which have different policies, labour contracts, and flows of funding.

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