“An outstanding contribution to society – world leading,” is one verdict by an independent review committee on the work carried out by the United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) and the International Centre for Integrated Assessment and Sustainable Development (ICIS) at Maastricht University, for the period 2010-2015. Drawing on a mix of data, interviews and narrative accounts, the committee of four Dutch and German professors presented their independent assessment in March 2017. The visitation of both institutes was conducted for the VSNU.
The assessment on societal relevance headlines with two other findings: first, that research quality is very good (i.e. internationally recognised) and second, that viability is also very good (i.e. very-well equipped for the future in terms of both financial and human resources). Put simply, the assessment gives the highest possible mark for societal relevance and the second highest mark for both research quality and viability.
“Research output is generally well-cited,” say the reviewers, based on an analysis of several hundred UNU-MERIT and ICIS papers from the Scopus database. They also highlight “a substantial rise in productivity” based on the number of refereed articles.
Programme directors Bart Verspagen (UNU-MERIT) and Ron Cörvers (ICIS) especially welcome the high mark for societal relevance. “Being part of the United Nations University puts societal interests at the core of our mission,” says Verspagen, “and this is shared by Maastricht University. We strive to work with policymakers and other societal stakeholders, and constantly aim our research at topics relevant to them. That the review committee recognised this, and gave us the highest possible mark for this aspect of our work, is a fantastic honour for all our researchers.” For his part, Cörvers calls the review “a great vote of confidence in our work – and also a timely one, given the growing focus on the 2030 Agenda. Overall it will help us strengthen our research on human development and sustainability and its societal relevance.”
Towards greater integration, while cherishing openness and diversity
The 22-page review looks at more than just research and resources, however. It considers a broad range of issues including diversity, integrity, and the institutes’ PhD programmes. It highlights, for example, the broad range of cultural and national backgrounds, as well as the gender distribution of PhD fellows and staff at the two institutes.
The report ends with a series of recommendations. These cover possible next steps towards an interdepartmental graduate school at Maastricht University and towards further organisational streamlining – with a caveat to “cherish the openness to self-organisation that can be seen as a unique asset of the institutes”. It also calls for societal relevance to be kept at the core of the research programme, and for the funding and recruitment base to be broadened – by focusing on grants from national and European research councils, for instance, and by recruiting the kind of staff able to win such grants. Finally, the review calls for a further intensification of the cooperation between UNU-MERIT and ICIS.
For more details, download the full report here: http://www.merit.unu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Research-evaluation-report-UNU-MERIT-and-ICIS.pdf
UN photo / Eskinder Debebe