Increasing focus on excellent research

Since the early 1990s, the Dutch government has honoured excellent researchers by awarding them grants and prizes. It has focused these efforts primarily on individual researchers who do trailblazing basic research. A large proportion of the budget available to NWO and the EU to fund research goes to excellent research. NWO’s Talent Scheme, the ERC grants and other funding instruments are having a growing impact on science in this way. That is one of the conclusions of our new analysis.

The budget for excellent research has more than doubled in the past ten years, from € 160 million in 2006 to more than € 370 million in 2016. This money goes to a small group of researchers who work at Dutch universities, university hospitals and other research institutes. At any given time, about 5% of all researchers in the Netherlands have an excellence grant. This represents 40% of the public research revenues acquired in competition by universities and university hospitals from the EU and NWO. Researchers at non-specialist universities receive the most excellence grants, relatively speaking.

The analysis shows that the original objectives of the government’s excellence policy are being achieved. The concentration of funding gives a relatively small group of researchers the opportunity to do trailblazing research. That concentration has continued because a growing number of grants are awarded to previous laureates.