This becomes clear from a survey held by de Volkskrant among 200 women who had been awarded a Vidi or Vici grant between 2013 and 2018. Erasmus Magazine also has access to the results of this poll. These researchers were each entitled to 50,000 to 200,000 euros in funding from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), provided their university promoted them within one year to the position of, respectively, associate professor or full professor and they didn’t already hold this position. The Aspasia allowance is paid out on top of the 800,000 and 1.5 million euro paid out respectively under Vidi and Vidi: two of the most prestigious personal grants awarded by the funding agency.
The Aspasia programme is intended to increase the share of women in senior positions. After all, women remain seriously underrepresented in the highest academic echelons. According to the Monitor maintained by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH), in 2017 only 30% of the Netherlands’ associate professors and 21% of the professors were female. Indeed, only 13.5% of the professors at EUR are women. In 2018, just one of Erasmus School of Economics’ full professors was a woman – compared to 36 men. Recently, the Diversity & Inclusion Office launched a new policy measure to enable more female EUR scientists to move up to the position of associate professor or full professor.
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Of the 144 women who participated in the survey, 126 indicated that they were eligible for the Aspasia allowance. However, 19 percent of this group wasn’t awarded this grant – even though if it were up to them, they would have welcomed the money. These figures more or less correspond with NWO’s own evaluation of the Aspasia programme in the period 2010-2012. NWO hasn’t established definite allocation figures for the following period – i.e. the one covered by this survey. For the time being, the funding agency says one-third of those eligible haven’t received the grant. This share is expected to decrease, since certain procedures haven’t been rounded off yet, for example.
The explanation most commonly offered to respondents who missed out is that their department or institute lacked the required assets to create a permanent position for them. Another frequently-heard argument was that their employer didn’t want NWO to overrule local promotion procedures.
The women who haven’t received an Aspasia grant or are still in limbo can be found at universities throughout the Netherlands, including Erasmus University.
For example, several Rotterdam Vidi laureates are still uncertain about the Aspasia, because the promotion procedures are still ongoing. Sometimes that leads to strange situations compared to their male colleagues, they say, because they were immediately promoted when they got a Vidi.
A majority of the respondents in Rotterdam were awarded an Aspasia, including Associate Professor of Virology Debby van Riel (43), who landed a Vidi in 2018. “Erasmus MC and my department wholeheartedly supported my promotion. Even when I was only able to work part-time for an entire year due to a serious illness, they continued to support me. This ensured that my career wasn’t side-tracked.”
LNVH sees this untapped funding as a missed opportunity. “After all, we’re talking about women who have been named excellent scientists by an external Vidi or Vici committee,” says spokesperson Lidwien Poorthuis. LNVH would like the universities and NWO to confer on how they can increase the share of Aspasia allocations, in order to ‘take optimal and effective advantage of this fine programme’.
According to the Associations of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), many of the Aspasia allowances remain on the shelf due to a lack of structural funding for the universities. “If someone is promoted to associate professor, there needs to be room to incorporate them in the organisation,” explains the VSNO spokesperson. “If there’s no room, universities need to make up the difference – and they often lack the required budget. A lot of institutions are affected by this matching pressure.” VSNU hopes this pressure will decrease now the government has announced its plans to transfer 100 million euros from NWO to direct funding.
In principle, most of the women who participated in the survey take a positive view of Aspasia as a means to encourage diversity. For example, three out of five Aspasia recipients believe it took them less time to make associate or full professor thanks to this extra allowance. Fewer than 10 percent of the respondents consider the programme completely redundant.
On the other hand, 60 percent do have suggestions on how it could be improved, ranging from a higher allowance figure to a longer term within which the recipient can be promoted. The term currently stands at one year, with a maximum extension of three years in cases where it’s the individual’s first permanent position.
Incidentally, the poll wasn’t sent out to each and every potential Aspasia recipient. Women who just missed on a Vidi grant but were evaluated as ‘excellent’ by the committees are also eligible for an Aspasia allowance. However, in contrast with those scientists who were awarded a Vidi or Vici grant, their names are not published – meaning they could not be approached for this survey.