There are no real 'blank spots' in Dutch research, but there are areas of concern that merit attention. That attention will remain necessary to prevent the concentration of research and research funding on broad themes from reducing the scope for basic, unfettered research, something that would be especially disadvantageous for young, innovative research groups.
These are the conclusions of the Academy advisory committee that investigated potential negative consequences of the government’s top economic sectors policy and the universities’ focus on specific research areas at the request of the previous state secretary for Education, Culture and Science.
In addition to its plea that government create more leeway for unfettered research, the Academy has also drawn attention to a looming division between education and research, between instructors and researchers, putting one of the defining characteristics of the university at risk. It is an issue that the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has also addressed in its recent policy plans. Finally, despite all the efforts, there has not been sufficient investment in digital and other infrastructure to secure the future of the Netherlands as a centre of knowledge.
An Academy advisory committee chaired by Prof. Jacques Thomassen began in June 2012 to consider the possible negative consequences of government’s science and innovation policy, at the request of the then state secretary of Education, Culture and Science. The committee published interim reports in 2013 and 2014. In its final report, it answered the following questions: Are there blank spots in Dutch research, and how can they be prevented? What is the budgetary scope for unfettered, basic research? What other problems may impede the pursuit of science in the Netherlands?
Areas of concern
The committee did not find any disciplines that are at risk of disappearing; Dutch research is robust enough to prevent such 'blank spots' from emerging. However, it has identified certain ‘areas of concern’ that the current policy has put at risk. The situation has become most pressing in the humanities and in Dutch law, but there is also pressure on pure mathematics and botany.
The committee advises government and the universities to encourage disciplines to develop strategic agendas for education and research, focusing in part on socially relevant issues – as is currently the case in the National Research Agenda. Areas of concern should be given priority in these agendas.
The scope for unfettered basic research has declined sharply in recent decades. One reason for this is the government’s top economic sectors policy, but there is also an international trend towards clustering research into broader themes. The Academy therefore recommends creating more scope in both the direct (universities) and indirect (NWO) funding mechanisms for unfettered research in general, and for small-scale initiatives by young researchers in particular, as these may well drive innovation.
Close relationship between education and research
As funding is increasingly being concentrated in a limited number of research groups, the close relationship between education and research is being put at risk. The Academy therefore recommends dividing funding evenly between disciplines and improving opportunities for talented young researchers throughout their academic careers.
You can download or order a copy of the full report (in Dutch only) on this website, where a PDF of the English management summary is also available.