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Progress of measures to reduce pressure on the research system

Progress of measures to reduce pressure on the research system

NWO and the Dutch universities have informed Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), about the progress of the integral plan to reduce pressure on the research system. In January 2020, NWO and Universiteiten van Nederland presented a package of measures to reduce the increasing workload and application pressure on academic staff. The progress report shows which important steps have been taken in the past year to reach the targets. 

More control over submissions
NWO has taken action on three fronts: improved information provision, continuous submission and application quotas. In terms of improving information provision, NWO has published an ‘integral call plan’. This allows academics to see upcoming calls a year in advance and decide well ahead of time which ones are best suited to their research ideas. In addition, NWO is working on quarterly statistical reports so universities can get a better idea of where the workload and application pressure is greatest. NWO is currently investigating whether and for which funding instruments the fixed deadline can be replaced by continuous submission. This would give academics more control over the timing of submissions because they would not have to wait for fixed deadlines. ‘We want to create more space for research,’ says NWO chair Marcel Levi. ‘People will have more flexibility when making submissions and can plan ahead.’ This measure will also counter the unintended effect of ‘submitting for the sake of submitting’, in a culture in which scientists are under tremendous pressure to secure research funding. In addition to these measures, NWO and Universiteiten van Nederland will investigate the effects of introducing quotas to determine in which form and in which rounds they can be introduced.

Implementation of measures by universities
The universities are making individual and joint efforts to implement four measures: less emphasis on funding applications, more diverse career opportunities for (starting) scientists, strengthening of the University Research Support Services and improved information provision between NWO and the universities. To reduce the emphasis on funding applications in careers and to create more diverse career opportunities, institutions will work together with the national Recognition & Rewards programme. Each university has an institution-wide R&R committee that develops concrete measures and experiments. Important developments are new career and promotion policies based on the principle of Recognition & Rewards at various universities, focus profiles aimed at research, education, impact and leadership, and the Faculty of Impact. To strengthen the University Research Support Services, knowledge and experience are exchanged at the Netherlands Liaison Officers consultation. In addition, Universiteiten van Nederland will launch a pilot programme for a Learning Community for Research Support Offices. Universiteiten van Nederland and NWO will continue to work together to improve information provision. The development of Legal Entity Appointed Representatives (LEAR function) – coordinators who receive real-time data on pre-proposals, applications and awards at their own institution – remains firmly on the agenda for the medium term. 

Systemic pressure can only be resolved with additional resources
Systemic pressure is a problem facing the entire research system. In recent years, continuous underfunding of research and increasing pressure on education have made academics and universities increasingly dependent on competitively acquired research funds. The PwC Strategy& funding study confirms this development. With the joint measures, NWO and the universities are working – within unchanged financial constraints – towards a healthier research climate. The system is affected by substantial bottlenecks, which can only by resolved with additional resources. ‘The universities and NWO are working hard to reduce the workload and application pressure. We are aiming for more acceptable award rates of at least 25%. We are doing what we can within the current financial frameworks, but everyone knows that these need to be permanently expanded to really tackle the problems,’ says Pieter Duisenberg, chair of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands. The Knowledge Coalition is therefore calling for investments of up to €1.5 billion on a structural basis in the coming term of office and an investment growth path of up to 3% of GDP for R&D. The universities would like to use a significant part of the additional resources through a rolling grant fund and sector plans.

The complete progress report can be found here.