Research funder NWO is taking a number of measures to increase the chance of an application for funding being accepted. This should prevent many scholars investing a lot of time in an application which is not ultimately successful.

The chance of getting funding from NWO has become too small, say most people in the academic world. One in seven applicants receives funding, while the rest submit their research proposals in vain. With the new plans, one in four applications should be approved.

Greater role of universities

Universities must get more control over the number of applications for NWO funding. They should in fact pre-select applicants, according to the proposed plans.

From now on, applicants must be given an ‘embedding guarantee’ from a university before they submit their research proposal. The ‘academic setting’ will be a factor in assessing research proposals because a good setting makes ‘the chance of success many times greater than when the project is implemented on its own’, says the NWO.

Less person-specific

However, the consequence is clear: researchers may not take their funding to another research institution. They must know in advance where they are going to do their research. As such, the funding will become less person-specific.

What’s more, some scholars could be sent away from their university midway through their project and the NWO project would then continue without them. That applies to a scholar in a tenure track, who have an agreement with their university that they will be assessed on their performance at set times. Why would NWO funding sabotage those agreements, is the idea. During the application itself, a university must appoint someone who can take on the project if the tenure tracker is sadly sent packing.

NWO also hopes that universities will re-evaluate their own personnel policy. Funding should no longer be a criterion for offering someone a job. This is something that NWO wants to discuss with universities.

Too little money

NWO is also taking various practical measures. For example, researchers applying to the European Research Council (ERC) will soon also have the chance to receive talent funding from NWO (funding from the so-called Innovational Research Incentives Scheme). Then they only need to do the work once.

NWO will also be pausing some funding programmes for a while, when there is too little money to approve a quarter of the research proposals. The research funder will then wait for a new round until there is enough money.

And why should it always be the winner takes it all? For some funding programmes, that’s absolutely not necessary. For example, if three consortia are competing for research funding, they could discuss merging the best elements of each other’s proposals and share the money. This is another possibility that the NWO wishes to trial.


Things are not going to change radically. For example, NWO is not keen on the idea of introducing a lottery among good scholars who are not dissimilar from each other, as some researchers from the Rathenau Instituut and members of the Jonge Akademie had proposed.

Nor does the research funder see any benefit in an equal distribution of research funding amongst all scholars, as NWO chair Stan Gielen said on Friday. However, NWO is ‘prepared’ to make money available for ‘a few PhD students’ who will further analyse the idea of basic funding for scholars.