NWO evaluation: appreciation for institute, wide-ranging investment in knowledge strongly required
On 12 October 2020, the evaluation committee of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), led by Alexander Rinnooy Kan, presented its evaluation report entitled 'De nieuwe weg van NWO' (NWO's new road) to Ingrid van Engelshoven, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The committee found that the coronavirus crisis has yet again emphasised that research and science are crucial to the resilience and agility of our society. In order to weather the coronavirus crisis and other crises, investments are needed across the entire knowledge chain. In this light, the committee pointed out the relatively modest research budgets in the Netherlands compared to other OECD countries. On numerous occasions in the past, VSNU already indicated the problematic nature of the tight research budgets, for example in the 2018 problem analysis, or Knelpuntenanalyse in Dutch.
Although the evaluation committee appreciates the way in which the NWO is fulfilling its remit, it does still feel that the science system is under major pressure. Researchers are experiencing great work pressure, as well as pressure to apply for funding, while the percentage of successful applications is disappointingly low. The committee is positive about the action plan devised by NWO and VSNU with the aim of reducing pressure on the science system. However, budget-neutral measures will never be able to completely do away with the bottlenecks. In addition to the measures taken by NWO and VSNU, supplementary funding is required according to the committee. As a result, they argue that the science budget needs to be increased, while thematic and independent research must also be bolstered. This could take the form of introducing a rolling-grant fund in basic university funding. The universities also consider a rolling-grant fund to be a good way of creating more calm and continuity in the science system. However, this would necessarily entail linking awarding resources from a rolling-grant fund to existing assessment systems for direct government funding and making these resources independent of other research grants.