The Cabinet hopes to allocate an additional 700 million annually to higher education and research, and also intends to endow a ten-year research fund with 5 billion. Those ambitions were included in the coalition agreement. Now Dijkgraaf has informed the Lower House of how he intends to distribute the available budget.

Working capital: 300 million

One of the notable inclusions is an annual 300 million allocation to researchers, an idea proposed by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The Academy called such grants ‘rolling grants’, but the Cabinet has chosen not to adopt this name. 

In his letter to the Lower House, Dijkgraaf mentioned ‘reliable and freely-to-be-spent starter and incentive grants, which will take the form of personal working capital for (junior) researchers’, although ‘junior’ should not be taken literally in this context. Dijkgraaf is referring to assistant professors, associate professors and full professors.

The budget to be used for these grants is made up of 156 million’s worth of starter grants to be allocated from the Ministry of Education’s budget, as well as 144 million’s worth of incentive grants to be allocated from the ten-year science fund. In other words, the latter type of grants won’t exist ten years from now.

The starter grants will be worth 300,000 and will be awarded to assistant professors on open-ended contracts. Each year, 520 assistant professors will receive a grant. The incentive grants will involve funding of up to 300,000, and associate and full professors will be eligible for them, as well.

“Researchers must use up their grants within six years,” Dijkgraaf explains. “Among other things, they may use them to allow themselves and their fellow team members to conduct research, hire new team members and purchase and use (small-scale) research facilities.”

During the term of their grant, successful applicants will not be allowed to submit any grant applications to the Dutch Research Council (NWO), because they will be deemed to have already enough money at their disposal. This rule will be implemented to reduce the number of researchers applying to the NWO for grants, thus giving other applicants a better chance of seeing their applications granted.

The grants will be allocated to the universities commensurate with their student numbers, but the younger universities of Rotterdam, Maastricht and Tilburg will be assigned slightly more funding than the older universities. Historically, the distribution of funds has favoured older universities, and Dijkgraaf is using this measure to redress that historic inequality to some extent.

Sector plans: 200 million

Another large share of the available budget will be allocated to ‘sector plans’ for the science sector, to which the Minister for Education intends to allocate 200 million annually. The idea is to give universities an incentive to collaborate more closely and to continue offering degree programmes that attract few students, such as Dutch Language and Literature.

It should be noted that Dijkgraaf intends to allocate 60 million of the aforementioned 200 million to projects addressing “problematic issues in sectors which have been identified in any event as priorities by all parties involved”. He intends to start allocating that funding as soon as this year. However, it is not yet known which problematic issues are the intended recipients of this funding.

Universities of applied sciences: 100 million

Universities of applied sciences will be awarded €100 million annually for their applied research projects: 50 million from the Ministry’s regular budget, plus another 50 million from the fund that will finance research projects in the coming ten years. The vast majority of the funding (85 million) will be provided by the government, but 10 million annually will be granted by the Taskforce for Applied Research (SIA), which is part of the Dutch Research Council (NWO). Another 5 million will be allocated to the development of a programme allowing students attending universities of applied sciences to get doctorates, which are to be called ‘professional doctorates’.

EU: 75 million; NWO: 80 million

There are other projects Dijkgraaf intends to allocate funding to, such as 75 million for co-funded research projects that have also received EU funding. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) will receive an additional 60 million for its ‘open competition’, as well as another 20 million for yet-to-be-identified superior research projects involving consortiums of researchers and institutions which have already proven to produce excellent research.

More time required for decisions on education sector and heavy workloads

Naturally, the Minister for Education also wishes to tackle problems in the education sector, although his plans to do so are not quite as specific. Dijkgraaf stated in the letter that there were decisions that required more time, such as international student intake, the future of higher professional education and the revamping of the higher education quality assurance assessment system.

He will not allocate a special sum to relieve the heavy workload of lecturers and staff, because the introduction of the working capital will change the research grant application system in a way that may help improve matters in that regard. However, he said he will continue to discuss the subject with tertiary education institutions.

The same thing is true for plans to show more ‘recognition and reward’ to researchers for things that do not involve their academic performance, e.g. teaching, leadership and sharing their knowledge with society at large. Dijkgraaf will not allocate additional funding to this effort, but will continue to keep an eye on it.

Student welfare: 15 million

Dijkgraaf has also taken note of increased “depression, motivation and concentration issues and substance abuse among students”, as well as students’ concerns about the future. “These signs have really struck a chord with me,” he said. He will allocate 15 million annually to addressing these problems.

Impact and shortages

Can the higher education sector and scientific research help solve problems related to climate change, power generation, nitrogen emissions, the housing market, the healthcare system, safety and security, inequality of opportunity, the job market, etc.? Dijkgraaf believes they can, but they will have to do so with the remainder of the available budget.

He has reserved a sum of up to 30 million annually for degree programmes offered by universities of applied sciences in three sectors where there is a shortage of competent workers: the healthcare system, the education system and the STEM sector. The universities of applied sciences will have to do all sorts of things with that funding: increase the number of students enrolling in such degree programmes, ensure fewer students drop out and ensure that the degree programmes are more in line with what is needed in the job market.

Dijkgraaf also wishes to allocate 20 million to ‘open science’, and 10 million to a science communication centre that will allow research results to find their way to society at large more easily.

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