Cash-strapped Nobel Institute seeks new funding


An exterior view of the Norwegian Nobel Institute with a bust of Alfred Nobel, in central Oslo, Norway on September 14, 2021.
Image credit: Reuters

Oslo: In the grip of a money shortage, librarians at the Nobel Institute in Oslo for a while donned gloves and tended to the gardens after the landscapers were fired.

The prestigious institution behind the Nobel Peace Prize has been hit hard by rising costs and budget cuts – made worse by the expense of operating its large, former offices.

With a staff reduced from eight to five since the 1990s, it is now looking to the Norwegian parliament for support, raising concerns about the institution’s independence.

“Over the past 20 years, our revenues have been reduced while our costs have continued to rise,” said Olav Njolstad, director of the Nobel Institute.

“Without additional income, our treasury will be exhausted in two or three years,” he told AFP from his desk, filled with history books on Adolf Hitler and the Cold War.

Now he is under pressure to sell his historic yellow-tinted building near the lush grounds of the city’s Royal Palace, which hosted Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Awarded in golden ceremonies in the presence of Norwegian royalty, the Nobel Peace Prize has been won by dozens of people and organizations since 1901, including Barack Obama, Malala Yousafzai and the World Food Program.

It will be awarded this year on October 8.

Political pressure

The Oslo Nobel Institute manages administration to support a five-person committee that selects the Peace Prize winner – the science and literature awards are managed by separate committees – and promotes peace research .

The bulk of the institution’s funding comes from an annual grant of SEK 5.3 million (523,000 euros, $ 605,000) from the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

Norwegian Nobel Institute

Bjoern Vangen, chief librarian at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, browses the library section of the institute in central Oslo, Norway on September 14, 2021.
Image credit: Reuters

The Swedish chemist and engineer died in 1896, bequeathing money to establish the prize in Norway, as well as awards for literature and science in Sweden.

But funding was drastically reduced in 2013 following the 2007-08 financial crisis, and has not increased since.

The money available does not go that far, due to the impact of inflation and rising pension costs.

Njolstad is now calling on parliament to step in to close the yawning budget deficit, but this has raised serious concerns about the institution’s autonomy.

“It is possible that in a future period there will be some pressure from one political group or another,” said Dan Smith of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“When the money is given, you can expect there to be a bigger voice,” he told AFP.

In accordance with Alfred Nobel’s wishes, the parliament already appoints the members of the committee.

For decades he has made a modest contribution to the institute’s library, but Njolstad has now requested a much larger annual aid of eight million Norwegian kroner ($ 913,000), which will be considered by parliament in the coming years. month.

He insisted that the grant would only be used for running costs and would not compromise the independence of the committee.

“Other institutions in society are funded – sometimes up to 100% – by the state, but no one questions their independence,” Njolstad said, using the examples of courts and academic research.

China row

Independence from politics is a cardinal value of the Nobel Committee: ministers have not been allowed to be members since 1936, while sitting MPs have been excluded from 1977.

But his choices have sometimes caused trouble for the powers that be in Oslo.

When the committee awarded Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, Beijing punished Norway by imposing a six-year freeze on bilateral relations and an effective freeze on salmon imports.

Observers say this episode may have caused Parliament’s reluctance to fund the Nobel Institute.

“The issue raises several fundamental and practical questions and deserves an open political debate,” said Tone Wilhelmsen Troen, Speaker of the Norwegian Parliament.

Back at the premises of the Nobel Institute in Oslo, the librarians no longer take care of the land after a generous neighbor finally steps in to cover gardening costs.

For some, selling the building offers a viable solution to the institute’s money problems.

Maintaining such an expensive property “is not a satisfactory way to manage” the money left by Alfred Nobel, said Vidar Helgesen, director of the Nobel Foundation, the institute’s main funder.

But for Njolstad, selling the institute’s house would be “a very bad idea”.

He doesn’t think it will cut costs and on top of that, they’ve been there since 1905.

“Our whole history is linked to this building,” he added.


Leave A Reply