It is difficult to understand, and completely unacceptable, that academic research centres get downgraded due to their focus on inequality and migration. Yet, this is about to happen in the evaluation that FCT, the agency responsible for science funding in Portugal is conducting on all the country’s research centres.
FCT commissioned this evaluation to the European Science Foundation, an agency that is losing functions to Science Europe. Until now, such evaluation has been run on the basis of documents, without direct contact with the centres. Furthermore, the trajectory of research units and their performance indicators have not been adequately considered.
As a consequence, evaluation reports contain many serious errors. About half of the research centres are already facing possible extinction. Research centres that are standard-setting in their respective fields, that have a key role in the country’s scientific system, that have been always granted top evaluation scores and that always showed growing scientific indicators, found themselves barred from the evaluation final step.
One of the most shocking cases is that of CIES (Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology), of ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon. It is a centre with extremely relevant activity and indicators that are among the best in the country. It has been always evaluated as excellent. Yet, the centre is now charged with having inequality and migrations as key research topics. According to FCT/ESF evaluators, such topics are “exhausted” at the local and European level, and therefore should be abandoned.
Social scientists know well enough that in today’s world, economic and social inequalities are growing, have significant consequences and are subject to reconfiguration. Likewise, international migrations keep increasing and diversifying with deep consequences both in origin and destination countries. Portugal is one of the European countries where these topics have acquired major relevance: it was the third more unequal country of the EU in 2011 and the second country of the EU with the highest emigration rate in 2010.
It is of the utmost importance to support, instead of destroying, groups of scientists that devote themselves to the study of inequalities and migrations. CIES is responsible for the Inequality Observatory and the Emigration Observatory. These observatories include expert teams, develop comparative research, participate in international networks, train young researchers, and disseminate information to the society. There is no justification for arbitrarily interrupting their work and jeopardising their continuity.