Funding mathematical research in Norway and at NTNU
(by Brynjulf Owren, Professor at NTNU)
There are currently no research programmes of the Research Council of Norway (RCN) dedicated to mathematical research. In earlier times there have been two such programmes, BeMatA and EvitA but they both had a focus on applied mathematics. Norwegian mathematicians can apply for funding from a general programme called FRIPRO, that funds projects from all areas of science and where the only criterion is excellence. Up to recently, such a project could typically fund two PhD students and a postdoc. More recently, RCN launched a new category of projects in FRIPRO called Toppforsk, these are larger projects typically given to the strongest research groups in the country. The competition for projects in FRIPRO is very sharp, the acceptance rate is usually about 10%.
At the Department of Mathematical Sciences, NTNU, the main source for research projects is FRIPRO, every year there are typically 2-3 new grants awarded to the various research groups from about 10 proposals. Last year, one Toppforsk project was awarded to the Differential Equations and Numerical Analysis (DNA) group. Some of the research groups have a more applied profile than others, and are able to get funding from industrial partners. This goes in particular for the Statistics group and the DNA group who have benefitted from industrial funding for many years, in particular from the oil industry. Also the Algebra group has some activity on cryptography and receives funding from various partners, such as the Norwegian National Security Authority (NSM).
As for EU projects, the most attractive instrument seems to be the ERC grants. Currently the department is coordinating one EU project in the category Research and Innovation Staff Exchange, with academic and non-academic partners.
It is believed, especially among mathematicians, that the economic impact of mathematical research on society is poorly communicated to decision makers, such as politicians and industrial leaders.
Recently three reports have appeared where the impact of mathematics on economic growth in the UK, in the Netherlands and in France has been quantified and analysed. The reports were written by independent consultant firms and the numbers they find are remarkable. For instance, the quantified contribution of mathematical science research to the UK economy in 2010 was estimated to be in employment terms ca 10% of all jobs in the country, and in terms of gross added value around 16% of the total UK gross added value.
Partly inspired by these three reports, the Norwegian Mathematical Council and the Research Council of Norway have decided to organise a workshop for mathematicians and stake holders in mathematical research in Norway. The idea is to raise the awareness of the impact of mathematical research in Norway. It is already well known that Norway has obtained good score in the national Research Assessment Exercise in recent years and thus, investing in mathematical research in Norway should have every possible chance to be successful and perhaps have an impact on the national economic growth in Norway in the long term.