Going Dutch: a new approach to Research Funding?

My attention was recently drawn to a proposal for a radical overhaul of the research funding system in the Netherlands by the Dutch Academy of Sciences.

The document I linked to above is in Dutch but the principles are easily understood. To prevent academics having to waste so much time writing proposals that have a very limited chance of success, it is proposed to introduce “rolling grants” for which no application is needed.

Every new Assistant Professor (equivalent to Lecturer) would be given €250K working capital to be used to fund research as the person sees fit. This would rise to €375K on promotion to Associate Professor (equivalent to Senior Lecturer/Reader), and €500K for a full Professor.

This system would have the advantage of giving all new staff the chance to establish their research without having to go through the lottery of a responsive-mode grant system while also ensuring that academics would have the freedom to choose their own priorities without having to follow an agenda imposed by external bodies (which is often influenced politically in such a way as to stifle original research in fields deemed not to be of immediate economic benefit, which is particularly true here in Ireland).

The creation of such a scheme guaranteeing a baseline of research funding for all academic staff would cost money beyond the savings made by reducing the wasted effort associated with the writing and reviewing of lengthy applications. That is the main reason it will not be implemented in Ireland where the Government sees University funding as a very low priority. I cite the almost complete neglect of the Third Level sector in last week’s budget, apart from the €250 given to each student in the hope that it will stop them complaining about having most of their teaching switched online…

It does seem to me to be a completely crazy system that employs people on the basis of their research experience but gives them no resources to carry out their research. For myself I’m not complaining so much about lack of funding – as a theorist my research is very cheap – but of lack of that most precious resource of all, time.

13 Responses to “Going Dutch: a new approach to Research Funding?”

  1. Phillip Helbig Says:

    I guess this is roughly to the rolling-grant scheme which existed when I was at Jodrell Bank almost a quarter of a century ago. It has always seemed much better than a grant-based approach.

    • telescoper Says:

      Not really. The UK rolling grant system still required extensive proposals to be written. The nearest UK system is the QR funding resulting from the REF but that does not go directly to the researcher.

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    It does seem to me to be a completely crazy system that employs people on the basis of their research experience but gives them no resources to carry out their research.

    There are also places which hire people for permanent jobs to teach, but themselves allow teaching only by people with permanent jobs.

    At least in the old days, there was an interesting system in Sweden: academics were hired only to teach. If they wanted to do research, they could apply for funding, including a fraction of their salary. If successful, the university would dock the salary by the corresponding amount, and hire someone for a temporary position which included teaching. This allowed younger people to get teaching experience and also allowed individual teaching/research balances, while at the same time having all research funding peer-reviewed.

  3. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “For myself I’m not complaining so much about lack of funding – as a theorist my research is very cheap – but of lack of that most precious resource of all, time.”

    Children dream about food. The young dream about sex. The old dream about time. 😐

  4. I don’t know anything about the Dutch system, but are they possibly civil servants employed by the national government? I can see that the system described might work on a situation like that. As i say, I don’t know – but i do know that there are many models for the employment of academics…

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s effectively the case in Ireland too…

      • Sounds good in terms of helping people establish their research, but would it be enough to sustain a programme? Under the scheme you would presumably receive up to 1125K in total, but that could take many years (time to go from lecturer to Professor). Could you e.g. sustain an experimental programme?

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      Why wouldn’t the funding model work if they were not civil servants?

  5. The bottom line is who decides on who to hire. When they come with guaranteed funding, there is less need to show the the new hirings are the strongest of the applicants. This could benefit people who hire their own collaborators as academics.String theory forever?

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      It cuts both ways. If there is third-party funding (research councils etc.), then they decide; perhaps they will favour string theory. I remember at the NAM in 1999 some government executive said that research on extra-solar planets would be supported more in the future (and other stuff correspondingly less).

  6. Phillip Helbig Says:

    “Het fonds is complementair aan persoons- en projectgebonden onderzoekssubsidies van bijvoorbeeld NWO en de ERC. Hier kunnen wetenschappers in competitie aanvullende financiering verwerven.”

    So the new funding is complementary to the old one, which will still exist (though perhaps reduced in amount).

    I haven’t read the whole thing yet but it looks like a step in the right direction.

    But it’s not really going Dutch; it’s your date paying for everything. 🙂

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