EXPLORING THE ROLE OF THIRD-PARTY RESEARCH IN ITALIAN UNIVERSITIES

A. Bonaccorsi, A. Ancaiani, L. Secondi, E. Setteducati

National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research Institutes (ITALY)
In the last years several changes have occurred in the university research environment concerning both the funding method and the evaluation of research performance. On one hand, universities have significantly increased the recruitment of research funds from external sources - in addition to the basic research mainly funded by government and institutions’ core budget – thus realizing a basis for the interaction between science and industry and for the creation of social and economic returns. On the other hand, the modification in the research funding system lead to consider indicators based on financial data in addition to the classical indicators for evaluating the research performance. However, the use of funding data - including third-party amount of funding - as suitable indicators to describe research performance of university departments and therefore for evaluating the scientific capacity of a university is still a debated issue due to the differences among fields of study and the non-profit nature of universities.
In Italy, the newly established National Agency for the Evaluation of Universities and Research institutes is called to define performance indicators, concerning both the education process and the research activities, to be used for distributing funds to the universities on the basis of their performance. In this context, the increasing attitude of universities to collaborate with external partners and therefore the activation of the wider process of knowledge transfer are two major aspects to carefully and properly consider in the framework of research evaluation.
This study has a twofold aim. Firstly, after a brief analysis of the evolution of funding sources of research activities in Italy, we will aim to shed light on the definition, the importance and the extent of third party funding in the Italian system of research funding. Secondly, by applying suitable statistical models we will empirically investigate the factors that characterize the departments making research on behalf of third parties as well as the significant features in raising research funding from external sources.
The analysis include all Italian university departments and it will be based on a unique data set obtained by combining different sources of data - collected early by the Italian Ministry of Education University and Research - which include information concerning both the structure, also in terms of academic staff, the field of study of the department and the economic context in which each institution operates.
Although discussion in the paper focuses on the evaluation process and the use of results obtained as a basis for the definition of a global research evaluation framework, the analysis carried out can also represent an important tool for each university institution regarding the internal processes of decision making and monitoring.