Dutch policy promoting scientific excellence

In this publication, we present facts and figures on Dutch government policy meant to promote scientific excellence. It explains the background to that policy and the various policy instruments used in the Netherlands. It also shows how funding is allocated across individual researchers, research institutions and research domains.

Since the early 1990s, the Dutch government has increasingly sought to encourage scientific excellence in its science policy.  As the word “excellence” indicates, this policy is meant for only a small group of extraordinarily talented researchers. Not everyone can be extraordinarily talented, because that would make “extraordinary” ordinary.

A growing number of funding instruments identify excellence as a priority. Their purpose is to increase differentiation in research quality within the science system by offering selective support to a small number of researchers, research groups or research organisations that perform extraordinarily well or have the potential to do so. 

Excellence has become an overriding aim not only of government policy but also at research institutions. Many of these institutions are striving to achieve excellence, for example by including the concept as one of the main criteria in performance reviews and career advancement.

The consensus is that scientific excellence is extremely valuable. But it is also a topic of debate. Is the excellence policy going too far? Is it too one-sided or too selective? Does it put too much emphasis on competition at the expense of cooperation? This publication provides facts and figures for this discussion.

Here, we offer a brief review of the policy instruments available to researchers at Dutch universities, university hospitals and the research institutes belonging to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). These instruments consist of funding awards – in the form of both grants and prizes – for which the main selection criterion is the excellence of the research proposal and/or researcher. Taken as a whole, such awards constitute the core of the government’s scientific excellence policy.

Our figures offer a glimpse of total expenditure within the context of the Dutch scientific excellence policy, the selective nature of that policy, and the degree to which funding is concentrated.