Biocenter Finland included in Finland's national roadmap for research infrastructures, but the FIRI 2013 funding decision is disappointing
Biocenter Finland has been selected for the updated national roadmap for research infrastructures with excellent reviews. The roadmap document will be officially published on March 14, 2014.
The application drafted by the Board of Biocenter Finland received strong support from the six hosting universities and from the international reviewers of the application. In its final summary the evaluators stated: "The committee was deeply impressed by this successful national-scale cooperation. The BF covers with great success key technologies and infrastructure in the biological and biomedical research. In fact, the committee members noted that they do not know of any similar successful national-scale infrastructure in the life sciences elsewhere, and stated that the Finnish experience can serve as a model for other small countries that want to successfully pursue cutting-edge biological and biomedical research."
The record of BF was considered outstanding and the roadmap proposal well-planned. The summary statement of the review panel ends with a statement encouraging the host universities and the national FIRI expert group to continue their support to BF: "It is essential to continue and support this proposal as one of the main road map efforts in coming years. It will empower modern cutting-edge research in the life sciences, increase mobility, and the international standing of Finnish life sciences research. It is likely to strongly and positively impact both biotech companies and medicine, and thereby have a strong societal impact. The committee unanimously rated the proposal as outstanding."
The FIRI 2013 funding decision is disappointing
Parallel to the roadmap update the Academy of Finland opened the call for FIRI infrastructure funds for 2013. Despite evaluation of BF's application for FIRI funds as outstanding, the application for 1,6 mill € was cut by 37 % to 1,0 mill €, which means serious cuts to the planned investments of technology platforms in partner universities. The Board of BF will discuss the situation in its meeting on Dec 9, 2013, and the approach the Rectors of host universities with a revised proposal for investments.
The FIRI infrastructure call was primarily intended for investments with a cap of 1,5 mill € and a lower limit of 300 000 €. BF prepared an application for 1,6 mill € towards investments in equipment selected by the Board from the applications of BF technology platforms which were also endorsed by BF's own high-level Scientific Advisory Board chaired by professor Carl-Henrik Heldin.
The international FIRI evaluation panel considered it essential to continue and support BF's proposal and went on to discuss the potential disadvantage that national networks have with the cap of 1.5M/proposal: "While sufficiently big for regular infrastructure proposals, is not be big enough for continued BF support. This is particularly true given the much bigger investment in BF in the past, and the fact that except for the host universities, the academy is the only source for infrastructure grants. The committee therefore recommends a special consideration of extra funding for BF."
BF Director Eero Vuorio is disappointed with the FIRI decision: "Unfortunately the recommendation of the expert panel was not followed and worse yet our proposal was cut by 37 %. This demonstrates that the application strategy of BF was wrong although it was clearly in line with the call text inviting joint projects of several organisations to write one joint application with one responsible party and the mutual responsibilities of other parties to be presented in the joint project plan."
"A quick look at the FIRI2013 funding decisions shows that the opposite happened; several much smaller infrastructures received similar amounts of funding than BF by splitting their application into several parts. We were paying too much attention to the call text asking for national collaboration in investments into equipment and their upgrades. This poses a serious threat to future development of BF as a coordinated national infrastructure and forces us to reconsider our strategy in future infrastructure calls. This may force all participating universities to write their own application for the FIRI2014 call." Vuorio continues.
Tel. +358 50 415 6595
E-mail: eero.vuorio (at) helsinki.fi