60 million euros allocated to improve collaboration between universities

| HOP, Bas Belleman

The Cabinet has allocated 60 million euros to fund the universities’ so-called ‘sector plans’. In these plans, the universities set out to collaborate more effectively.

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK

The idea behind the sector plans is that education and research could become more efficient if institutions made clear agreements about how to divide their tasks? As Minister of Education Robbert Dijkgraaf put it: ‘There’s no need for everyone to do everything.’

The government can also set conditions for the funding, such as permanent contracts for scientists. It has earmarked 200 million euros a year for these sector plans, with 60 million euros already being made available this year.

The funds will go to four domains: engineering, science, medical science, and the social sciences and humanities. These domains have been divided into various disciplines and themes.

Themes

In engineering, money will go towards plans relating to energy and sustainability, but also towards ‘safety’. Within the science domain, biology, astronomy and other disciplines all have their own individual plans. The medical sciences will receive funding for data-driven innovation, prevention and the translation of fundamental research into practical applications.

Meanwhile, funding for the social and behavioural sciences and the humanities is being spread across a large number of themes, including youth resilience, diversity, education, cultural heritage and languages.

As the budget must be divided between fourteen universities, each with various faculties, the 60 million euros in funding is being split into lots of smaller amounts. Of the 1.5 million euros being made available for ‘languages & cultures’, for instance, the highest amount – 304,000 euros – has been allocated to the University of Amsterdam. Maastricht University, on the other hand, will only receive 39,000 euros. Some of the other amounts are even smaller: the Faculty of Theology at the University of Groningen will receive 13,000 euros for the theme ‘communication, information and social inequality’.

Performance

The committee advising Minister Dijkgraaf on the sector plans does have some reservations. In its report to the minister, it wonders how the success of the plans will be monitored, as the universities have not yet properly worked out how they are going to measure their performance.

There are also other research programmes, such as the Dutch Research Agenda, the Knowledge and Innovation Covenant and the National Growth Fund. According to the committee, the sector plans should be better aligned with these programmes.

Furthermore, the link between research and education will require special attention in the coming months, as the plans are being worked out in more detail. The plans for the engineering domain in particular could be improved in this area, the committee believes.

Criticism

The Cabinet’s extra investments in science are generally appreciated, but there is also criticism about the distribution of the money. Professor of Korea Studies Remco Breuker, one of the driving forces behind the WOinActie protest movement, warns on Twitter that there are all kinds of new topics in the plans that require new policy. ‘I would have really liked to see an unglamorous investment in what is already there instead of all this hot air about collaboration and so on.’

Saskia Bonjour, a member of the Young Academy, also has some questions about the funding. For instance about the new assistant professors that will be hired, which should ease the workload. ‘That sounds good to me. But I have no idea how the money is going to be distributed in practice. It would have been quite nice if the field had been involved in identifying those themes and priorities.’

Stay tuned

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.