Scientists who wish to be considered for an NWO grant must now provide a letter by a university stating that the applicant will actually be allowed to conduct his/her study at that university, if the grant should be awarded.


This so-called ‘embedment guarantee’ became a requirement in order to curtail the rush on research grants, which was necessary because the likelihood of obtaining an NWO grant has decreased tremendously in recent years. When the previous call for proposals for Vidi grants (research grants amounting to €800,000) was released, 485 academics ended up not receiving a grant, which amounts to 85 per cent of all applicants.


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However, NWO says that percentage will be considerably lower this year. Judging from the initial count, the granting agency has received about 25 per cent fewer applications for this year’s Vidi grants than for last year’s grants. This year marks the first time the embedment guarantee has been a requirement.

In other words, academics now have a 20-percent chance of being awarded a Vidi grant, up from 15 per cent. Which is good news, because not only are applicants more likely to receive funding, but the (very high) costs of the applications will be reduced, as well. According to an estimate by CPB (the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis), the distribution of the €40 million’s worth of research grants costs about €9.5 million on top of that sum, if you include the time applicants spend writing their proposals and the time the committees then spend assessing these proposals.

So does NWO consider the new numbers a success? The agency would not go quite that far. “If our only objective was to receive fewer applications, we would simply have capped the number of applications per university,” said NWO spokesman Olivier Morot. “But the embedment guarantee is more than that. It is also a way to allow universities to have more of a say on their human resources.” NWO will evaluate this year’s round of Vidi grant applications. The results of the evaluation are expected to be published in 2019.


De Jonge Akademie, a society made up of relatively young academics affiliated with the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, has received complaints from researchers who were not allowed to apply for a grant. “They are getting stuck and are seeing a further deterioration of their career prospects,” said Academy spokesperson Janneke Visser. The society seeks to identify the consequences of the embedment guarantee and has called on researchers to share their experiences.

 For their part, young Utrecht-based academics, united in the Utrecht Young Academy (UYA), have also pointed out the negative consequences of the new rule for scientists who are not yet that familiar with their department or do not have a useful network. “Previously, NWO’s strength lay in its independent distribution of funds by external assessment committees, which bypassed the university’s own hierarchical structures,” UYA stated in a letter to NWO Chair Stan Gielen. “[In the new system] there is a highly undesirable but realistic chance that internal committees at the universities will end up deciding who gets to apply for a grant and who doesn’t.”