Friday, January 24, 2020

Opinion DT 8-9 / 2015

Worrying lack of interest in Oslo for funding development research

Development studies is an essential branch of research that has underpinned Nordic international engagement and solidarity for decades. It is therefore worrying to witness that under the current Norwegian government, there appears to be a reluctance to give full backing, write Henning Melber and John Y Jones.

Henning Melber, Director Emeritus of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and former Research Director of the Nordic Africa Institute.

John Y Jones, Dag Hammarskjöld Programme, Voksenåsen in Oslo.

This contrasts with earlier Norwegian policy.    

Once upon a time there were countries in Northern Europe that punched above their weight internationally. The Nordic profile was a trademark in domestic and foreign policy. The Nordics set standards. They were showcases for Western democracies; they were social welfare states that also executed their global responsibilities.


Norway’s reputation in the global South was something to be proud of. It pre-dates the oil boom. In the early years, this engagement was not financed by wealth obtained from the North Sea. With more modest state budgets, Norway lived up to values of international solidarity.

Norwegian NGOs and research institutions also managed to establish strong international reputations. During the second half of the 20th century, Norwegian scholars in the fields of Development Studies and African Studies became known around the world. The Norwegian social awareness of the world’s inequalities and the need to play a responsible part in their reduction were similarly reflected in the role Norad played. Norway became one of the most respected donors. Even today, Norway’s name is inextricably linked to movements for sustainable development and the fight against poverty.

Against this background, we are concerned about the apparent lack of interest in and commitment to the research programme, Norway – Global Partner (Norglobal), a key platform for development research. It has been for the last five years the most important single funding source for Development Studies in Norway. Today its future is uncertain.

Strengthening domestic and foreign knowledge is a crucial part of capacity building. It reduces inequalities in the world and thereby contributes towards peaceful solutions and the reduction of violence – in both structural and physical forms. Such insight seemed a rather common understanding and practice in Norwegian society and politics some time ago.

Norglobal was established in 2009, expanding on an earlier programme. A recent evaluation recognized the value of the research and recommended that more funds should be made available. Norglobal 2 (2015 to 2023) was conceptualized earlier this year. Its overarching focus is on efforts eradicating extreme poverty and promoting equity and social justice through inclusive, sustainable development. The programme will facilitate cooperation between Norwegian and international researchers. It will support to North-South interaction, research collaboration and co-production of knowledge to reduce structural disparities, including traditionally isolated research environments in the South into a wider global research community.

Such an approach strengthens Norwegian capacity to generate new insights to reduce conflicts and promote stability. It allows Norway to play a role that goes far beyond its North Sea oil and trade partners. Amazingly, this would cost less than NOK 100 million – a trivial sum in the big picture. While Norway continues to live off an image that was established in the past, there seems to be little awareness that this well-deserved recognition carried some costs. The research programme Norglobal 2 remains so far unfunded, awaiting a decision from Foreign Minister Børge Brende.

Current approaches to global problems are multi-faceted and poverty is a result of a wider context. Long-term research that facilitates the bringing together of vibrant policies in areas such as social integration with global employment growth focus, cross-discipline and global cooperation are basic ingredients in a viable poverty reduction campaign.


Hence poverty research ought to be multi-dimensional, inter-disciplinary and independent. It should include matters of gender, climate change, education, health, social and economic policy and many more. There is no easy way to fight poverty without the painstaking foundation of sound research and on-going information production.

Unfortunately, the minister seems to lack such an understanding. There is a reluctance to allocate the necessary but modest funds for such collaborative research in Norway. This is a blow for capacity and competence in Norwegian research institutions, where the scholarly community depends on funding of such research to remain in the top echelons of international research.

There were times when Norway was associated with international solidarity. It seems there is a shift today away from those in need. Where Norway used to be recognized for supporting a Southern perspective, it is now increasingly bound up to one related to oil and money.