In the middle of December darkness, UTU Research Funding unit made a mind-brightening benchmarking visit to the University of Tartu (UT). The purpose of the visit was to familiarise ourselves with the Tartu University Grant Office, Tartu Ülikool Grandikeskus, meet our Estonian colleagues and to benchmark how they have organised their Pre-Award and Post-Award services. In all, this visit turned to be very inspiring, and I had the pleasure to be part of it.
The Grant Office is the central research support office of the University of Tartu and responsible for implementing the UT strategy to increase EU funding. Interestingly, within Grant Office the UT has also recently started to provide Grant Writing Services. For this reason, we were looking forward to the trip and keen to hear and exchange experiences and best practices.
We reached Tartu by bus-boat-bus experience. On the first day of the programme, our host Head of Grant Office Taivo Raud, had organised an intensive and interesting 1-day session with his team at the Grant Office. We were warmly welcomed, and exchange of ideas was smooth and interactive. To be honest, I did not mind the interaction being completed by a generous selection of delicious Estonian chocolate.
During the day we heard presentations about the UT R&D performance, internationalization in research and higher education, Grant Office and Horizon 2020 support services as well as UT participation in EU R&I partnerships. The University of Tartu, established in 1632, generates more than 50% of the Estonian research output and with its 4 faculties it is the only comprehensive university in Estonia. The total research income of UT in 2019 was 76,2 M€ (total UT budget 182M€). The University of Tartu is coping fairly well in Horizon2020, overall success rate being 15,2%. According to the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking, UT is the leading research university among EU13 countries. That was also one of the reasons why we chose to benchmark UT.
Interestingly enough, the university has made some major strategic shifts to increase EU funding. Augmenting their pre-award EU funding services, i.e. grant matching and grant writing is one. The UT Grant Writing Unit (GWU) helps and assists researchers in writing proposals, mainly focusing on Horizon 2020 but other international funding sources such as EIT, Erasmus and Interreg also play a role. GWU, presented by the Head of the Unit Hector C. Pagan, started at the University of Tartu in summer 2018. Currently the unit consists of a team of 5 people but due to growing demand, the plan is to recruit more writers in the near future. GWU is actively monitoring their performance by different indicators, and statistics indicate positive results. There definitely seems to be a demand for Grant Writing Services at UT.
Secondly, increasing UT participation in EU partnerships, also called pre-pre-award services, is another strategic interest of UT. We had a chance to hear presentation by Vallo Mulk, the Specialist of International R&D Cooperation and learned how the UT Grant Office supports Partnership integration.
The Tarto city was beautiful with its Christmas lights. To complete a lovely day, our hosts had organised a guided tour at the University of Tartu historical main building. The building was very impressive indeed, with the historic prison cell located in the attic – in the 19th century this mystery room was reserved for students who had violated public orders of the university´s code of conduct.
The more things you learn, the more new ideas come to your mind…
In all, we got a lot of new ideas during the visit. We learned that we already have many common practices between UTU and UT, hence sharing experiences was interesting, e.g. about Research Professional database that has quite recently been introduced at UT.
On our way back we were discussing possible ways of implementing some of the new ideas in our unit. Co-operation and exchanging of ideas and practices with Tartu team will certainly continue. We also invited them to the Emerging Horizons: Research Service Days in Turku in August 2020. Hopefully see you there at the latest!
Photos by Maritta Löytömäki