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Background

Quality and impact of scientific research

The quality and impact of scientific research are of the utmost importance for universities in the Europe of Knowledge. The pursuit for research excellence and the implementation of innovative technologies and applications are top priorities for the European universities. Many policy measures are aimed at acquiring more funds from prestigious funding agencies and at maximising the potential economical and societal impact of scientific research. At the same time, the outcome of quality assessments and/or performance on research parameters (publications, PhDs, acquired funds) play an increasingly dominant role in the distribution of research funds, at intra-university as well as at interuniversity level.

External quality assessment

Since 1991, the legislator has imposed the obligation on the Flemish universities to subject their research to external quality assessment according to an 8-year cycle,  but did not stipulate how exactly this should be done. Initially, the University of Antwerp opted for a number of bibliometric analyses and, in 2000, for quality assessment with remote peer review. The structural decree of 2003 repeated in article 92 that universities are obliged to organize external research quality assessments at regular intervals, preferably in the form of joint initiatives, and that they are to publish and take into account the outcome of these assessments. This context led the Research Council of the University of Antwerp to decide on 27 February 2007 to introduce a systematic external quality assessment of its entire research, through a discipline-specific approach. As such, a first cycle of site visits took place from 2007-2008 until 2014-2015. In the spring of 2015, the Research Council decided to continue this approach and hence organize a second cycle of research assessments as from academic year 2015-2016. Accordingly, the same obligation stipulated in the 2003 structural decree was repeated in article II.121 of the 2014 decree of the Flemish Government regarding the codification of decretal regulations for higher education.

Since the Research Council’s decision in 2007, the consecutive site visits are scheduled according to a rotating system, in which the quality of the research units belonging to two disciplines is assessed each year. This way, all disciplines at the University of Antwerp are evaluated within the minimally required 8-year period. The research is evaluated during site visits by international peer review panels, whose members are given every opportunity to enter into a dialogue with academic policymakers and the spokespersons of the research units during on-site interviews. This approach ensures maximal involvement of the panel members and guarantees that the panel can reach a balanced decision in a fully interactive environment and hence write a well-founded evaluation report.

  • Spruyt E. & Engels T. (2010). Onderzoeksvisitaties als beleidsinstrument aan de Universiteit Antwerpen: basis voor een toekomstig interuniversitair Vlaams model? TH&MA, 3, 31-37.
  • Engels T., Dexters N. & Houben B. (2012). Correlations of assessments of research group quality and productivity with group size, output numbers, and normalized impact. Proceedings of the 17th Int. Conference on Science and Technology Indicators, 247-257
  • Engels T., Goos P., Dexters N. & Spruyt E. (2013). Group size, h-index, and efficiency in publishing in top journals explain expert panel assessments of research group quality and productivity. Research Evaluation, 22:4, 224-236