The plan is outlined in a letter sent today by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the NWO granting agency to Ingrid van Engelshoven, the D66-affiliated Minister for Education, Culture and Science. It is one of multiple ideas drawn up by the two organisations to reduce the huge number of research grant applications submitted every year.

The idea for such a restriction on academics who submit low-quality proposals was borrowed from the European Research Council (ERC), which bans academics from submitting grant applications if they had a low-quality proposal rejected in the previous round of applications.

Another measure proposed by the authors of the letter is the abolition of deadlines for NWO grants, as this will encourage researchers not to submit their applications until their proposals are fully thought out, which will hopefully result in less rushed grant applications.


In addition, the universities are considering performing more preselections of their own, thus reducing the immense number of applications submitted to NWO. What’s more, the universities and NWO may wish to start implementing quotas, meaning that certain NWO categories will see the number of applicants capped.

This idea is still in its infancy. The organisations realise that one of the risks inherent in it is the burden of the work merely being shifted from NWO to universities, which will not actually reduce the number of applications to be assessed, nor reduce the pressure experienced by academics.

The manner in which academics are assessed will undergo some change, as well. More emphasis will be placed on the ‘narrative’. In other words, the granting agency wishes to focus less on academics’ numbers of publications and the rankings of the journals in which their articles are published. Instead, academics will be asked to submit, say, a top-10 of their own publications and explain why these publications are valuable. According to the universities and NWO, this will provide people who have “embarked on a dynamic career pathway” with equal opportunities.

Granting academics more time

Furthermore, the universities wish to ensure that obtaining funding from NWO is not the only way in which academics can have successful careers. The universities wish to give their young researchers more time to apply for funding so that they will have more time to work on their own growth. However, this is contingent on the universities having enough budget to do so.

Furthermore, the Dutch universities wish to focus more on other academic career pathways, e.g. in teaching or innovation. They have announced so before in their plans to come up with different ways to “recognise and show appreciation for their employees’ contributions”.

The authors of the letter warned the minister that certain issues will only be able to be solved through additional funding. They also stated that the way in which universities are funded should be more stable.