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VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw drive change in recognition and reward of academics

Within the academic community the search is on for a new approach to recognising and rewarding academics. The VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands), NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), NFU (Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres) and ZonMw (Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development) will team up in 2019 to spearhead these efforts in mutual consultation with the university community. They are driven by the conviction that such renewal is instrumental in the development of talent, in the advancement of the quality and impact of both teaching and research, as well as in the promotion of knowledge institutions as employers. 

Renewal in three areas 
Universities and university medical centres (UMCs) are working to redefine existing frameworks for the recognition and reward of academics. Similar renewals, with a specific focus on research assessment, are happening at research institutes and research funding bodies. These renewals are concentrated in three basic domains. 

  • Differentiation of career pathways: Universities and UMCs want to provide academic staff with a choice for specific focus areas –teaching, research, knowledge transfer and/or leadership. 
  • Renewal of research assessment methodologies: New approaches to evaluating research quality and impact are emerging. The promotion of open science is integral to this development. 
  • Team science: Alongside recognition and reward for individual accomplishments, there is a push to award the collaborative efforts and accomplishments of teams with the consideration that they deserve. 


National and international support essential 
The VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw believe that renewal of existing frameworks for scholarly recognition and reward is essential for the Dutch knowledge sector. This process will provide a stimulus for broad talent development and the transition to open science, align with the primary tasks of knowledge institutions and make them more attractive as employers, and boost the quality and impact – academic as well as societal – of teaching and research. The four organisations will launch a range of activities in 2019 to spearhead this effort, working in mutual consultation with academia. This approach will require support from the academic community, coordination with sector initiatives and national cooperation. Successful implementation of the changes will also call for wider international backing, given that domestic changes in the short run could negatively affect the development, reputation and funding of Dutch research. To prevent this situation, other countries (within and outside the EU) must be convinced to embark on similar renewals, which can be achieved through alliances and coalitions between the Dutch academic sector and international partners. 

Activities in 2019 
Recently, the VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw have already begun laying the groundwork for a renewal of scholarly recognition and reward frameworks. This activity has included the further development of the standard evaluation protocol (SEP) for research, introduction of the ‘embedding guarantee’ by the NWO and ZonMw, and joint efforts to implement the National Plan Open Science. 

In 2019, the VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw will step up their efforts, with plans for a range of activities and by explicitly seeking cooperation with academics themselves. 

  • In the spring, ZonMw will take the lead in organising an invitational conference with NWO to consult the broad academic community on the question: ‘What should the scholar of the future look like?’ 
  • The NFU and its partners are working out a plan for ‘research that makes you better’, to be issued in the first quarter of 2019. This plan will include a discussion on the recognition and reward of academics. 
  • The Dutch universities will draw up a joint position paper to be published by the VSNU in the first half of 2019, setting out the ambitions of the universities and their academic staff as well as the changes needed in the academic establishment both nationally and globally. Input for this paper will be gathered via round tables. 
  • NWO and ZonMw intend to sign the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) in 2019. Furthermore, NWO will look for ways to increase the weight of research quality and anticipated impact in its evaluation of researchers and proposals. This process will be done in consultation with ZonMw, the VSNU and academics. 
  • The VSNU will organise a large meeting in 2019, at which the entire university and research sector can share new best practices for scholarly recognition and reward. 
  • Under the auspices of the VSNU, a group of experts drawn from universities and research institutes will develop a common set of recognition and reward instruments for specific domains: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and leadership. 
  • In 2019, the Dutch universities will explore whether modifications to the sector-wide collective labour agreement (cao) and the University Job Classification System (UFO) are needed to facilitate the desired renewals. 
  • The VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw will continue to stress the need for renewal of recognition and reward frameworks in their discussions with foreign counterparts. In addition, they will pursue international coalitions to support this effort. 


The major challenges currently facing society call for greater cooperation and for a multidisciplinary as well as impactful approach to scholarly practice, with recognition and reward frameworks that support this approach. By deploying the activities described above, the VSNU, NWO, NFU and ZonMw aim to spearhead this development. Moreover, by explicitly enlisting their academic and public base, the four organisations will be able to indicate by the end of 2019 which sector-supported changes can be made to scholarly recognition and reward. 


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Ruben Puylaert


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Liselotte de Langen

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