A Vidi grant (800,000 euros) enables scientists to start their own research group. Many scientists see it as crucial, because it gives them a firm foothold in academia. For example, if they are employed on a temporary contract, a grant award usually leads to a permanent appointment as a university lecturer or senior lecturer. Vidi grant-holders ultimately often end up with a professorship, such as sociologist Renske Keizer.
From this year, however, researchers can only submit a Vidi application if they are able to present the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) with a so-called embedding guarantee. This is a promise from their institution to take them on permanently if they receive the grant, or at least give them a tenure track appointment.
The Young Academy: ‘New NWO measure should be thrown out’
The new application requirements adopted by NWO in 2018 for Vidi grants have negatively…
Dependent on goodwill
Less than a quarter of the respondents in the DJA survey were positive about the embedding guarantee. The essence of the complaint is that the requirement works mainly in favour of researchers who already have a permanent contract, as such a guarantee is a mere formality for this group. Scientists with a temporary appointment, however, are now completely dependent on the goodwill of their university, and this makes it even harder for them to find a permanent job.
Thus the quality of a research proposal now determines not just whether someone gets a grant, but his or her contractual status too. For more than half of the respondents who had not received an embedding guarantee, this was for financial or contractual reasons, according to the survey. “You can see that almost anyone with a permanent contract could submit a Vidi application,” explained Benham Taebi, board member of the Young Academy, by phone.
This favouring of researchers who already have a permanent appointment – and hence pose less financial risk – is bad for researcher mobility, said Taebi. “People from other universities or from abroad are now less likely to submit an application.” And that in turn is not good for the quality of Dutch academic research, some fear. As one survey respondent wrote, “You’ll get even more ‘inbreeding’ now; before you know it, the Netherlands will become a kind of Belgium or Italy.”
The Young Academy is part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). It consists of a select group of relatively young leading scientists (up to 45 years old), including epidemiologist Arfan Ikram of Erasmus MC, for example.
NWO introduced the embedding guarantee requirement in order to increase the funding probability of Vidi applications, which, at ten to fifteen per cent, has been drastically low for years. Six Erasmus researchers received a Vidi grant last year.
In addition, the measure means that the power to set personnel policy will lie primarily with the university again, instead of (indirectly) with the research funding body, NWO argues. By means of preliminary selection, universities will be able to prevent researchers with a grant from ‘claiming’ a permanent position.
An additional aim was to prevent institutions from getting ‘stuck’ with grant-holders whose research is inconsistent with the university’s research strategy, or is of inferior quality. This is better for the applicant, the project and the university, according to NWO.
However, almost three out of five respondents stated that there was ‘little or no active selection’ at their institution. Moreover, not a single respondent indicated that he or she had failed to receive an embedding guarantee on the basis of research quality.
The survey results are broadly in line with those of a survey conducted by de Volkskrant in November among two hundred Veni grant-holders. A Veni grant is a kind of junior variant of the Vidi grant. In the Volkskrant survey too, most researchers were unhappy with the embedding guarantee requirement.
The new rule has resulted in Vidi applications decreasing by nearly a quarter this year, according to figures from NWO. It has therefore already achieved its primary objective (a higher chance of funding). In the summer, the research funding body will assess the effects of the new rules and whether any adjustment is needed, said spokesman Olivier Morot earlier in response to the Volkskrant survey.