This is one of Dijkgraaf’s biggest interventions in the academic world to date: universities receive 300 million euros per year for starter and incentive grants. The idea behind these grants is to take the pressure off academics and give them some breathing room.

The starter grants are intended for new assistant professors with permanent contracts. In principle, they are given an amount of 300,000 euros to spend on research of their choice. Approximately half of a total of 300 million euros was earmarked for this purpose.

Permanent contracts

Many assistant professors are now being given permanent contracts: at the end of 2022, just 20 per cent of them were in temporary employment, compared to 30 per cent the year before. Because of this, insufficient funds were available for all of them to get a grant. This is why universities are now being permitted to reduce these grants to a minimum of 150,000 euros, writes outgoing Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf.

Dijkgraaf sent his letter to the House of Representatives before Christmas, on time for its discussion of the 2024 budget for his ministry straight after the recess. The new starter and incentive grants are an important item of expenditure.

Universities have always had the freedom to pay higher or lower incentive grants (for which the other half of the 300 million euros are intended) to their other academic staff. A committee advised keeping the two budgets strictly separate to maximise the benefit of both systems. Given the lack of funds, Dijkgraaf decided against following this advice. This means that universities will also be able to fund the starter grants given to assistant professors from the money available for incentive grants.


The grants awarded are not paid directly to researchers; universities deduct overheads of up to 20 per cent from them first. Additional costs of 60,000 euros are deducted from a grant of 300,000 euros, for administration, communication and staffing policy purposes and so on.

The advisory committee in question felt that this percentage was quite high. It advised that universities be required to explain why certain costs were being deducted at the very least. Dijkgraaf agrees. Universities will no longer be able to skim off 20 per cent for no good reason.

What the House of Representatives thinks about this – and whether it is even a topic for discussion given the ongoing negotiations for a new government – will become clear during the debate on the budget next week.

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