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Governance of science

fact sheet
01 January 2018
science goverment Innovation
What is the role of Central government, the advisory bodies, regional governments and Europe? There is no single party that manages science in the Netherlands. Besides the national government and regional authorities, Europe also has a major impact on the general shaping, definition and implementation of Dutch science policy. Funding, legislation and regulations are the main instruments used to guide science and scientific organisations. These in turn are guided by scientific, societal and economic interests. The government periodically issues policy documents on these matters.

In short

  • Within the national government, the ministries of OCW and EZK are mainly involved in national science policy in the Netherlands.
  • Within provinces and large municipalities, science policy is developed in the field of knowledge and innovation, usually part of regional economic policy and primarily aimed at innovation.
  • The European Union is striving for a dynamic and competitive knowledge economy in order to increase European competitiveness.

Central government and science

Parliament (both the Senate and the House of Representatives), the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, the Minister of Economic Affairs and the other ministries are the main parties involved in shaping science policy. The government’s efforts are geared to ensure that Dutch science continues to rank among the best in the world, with optimal impact on society and industry, and to create opportunities for talented scientists.

The Cabinet discusses issues in the field of research and science policy in the Economic Affairs, Infrastructure and Environment Subcommittee (REZIM), where preparations are made for decisions to be taken by the entire Cabinet. Staff from the ministries meeting in the context of CEZIM do the groundwork for REZIM decision-making.

  • Besides economic, infrastructural and environmental issues, REZIM is also concerned with science and research policy and higher education. Its membership consists of the ministers most closely involved with these matters.
  • CEZIM is the Committee for Economic Affairs, Infrastructure and the Environment.

For more on the details of science policy, see the factsheet on science and innovation policy.

The role and responsibility of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science

At national level the Minister of Education, Culture and Science has a coordinating role, as the minister responsible for science policy. At international level – as in the development of EU policy, for example – the science minister shares this responsibility with the Minister of Economic Affairs. The science minister’s coordination task consists of publishing policy documents announcing plans or responding to advisory reports on science policy. The most recent policy document on science policy was published in November 2014 (Science Vision 2025: Choices for the Future).

The science minister is responsible for the performance of the science system as a whole, with some involvement on the part of the economic affairs minister. The science minister is also responsible for overseeing the spending of public funds and for ensuring knowledge is disseminated adequately in society.

The minister is responsible for funding the research and science system, and also for fostering:

  • quality and excellence in scientific research
  • focus and profiling, as agreed with the universities in the 2011 framework agreement;
  • collaboration between companies, knowledge institutions and the authorities. Innovation contracts have been developed for the purpose as part of the top sectors policy;
  • alignment between research and the needs of society.

The minister also creates the conditions necessary for:

  • excellent research at universities and knowledge institutions;
  • maintaining innovative capacity and the quality of Dutch research;
  • the effective functioning of scientific institutions that play a leading role both independently and in relation to universities and companies;
  • Dutch research facilities;
  • the coordination and positioning of science policy at national and international level.

The role and responsibility of the Minister of Economic Affairs

The Minister of Economic Affairs bears broad responsibility across central government for enhancing the country’s innovative capacity, with a particular focus on industry, for the purpose of achieving new or considerably improved products, processes and services, and administrative, organisational or marketing innovations. Along with the Minister of and State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, the economic affairs minister is responsible for coordinating and nurturing the public knowledge infrastructure for applied and fundamental research.

In the context of these responsibilities, it is the economic affairs minister’s role to encourage and direct. The minister fosters:

  • extra investment in R&D and innovation by all companies, including SMEs, both in a generic sense, and specifically for top sectors,;
  • public-private partnership between knowledge institutions and companies, as in the top consortia for knowledge and innovation (know as TKIs);
  • European and international collaboration on innovation and, along with the State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science, encourages European and international collaboration on R&D.

The minister directs:

  • top sector policy and the detailing of knowledge and innovation contracts;
  • an effective system for the protection and application of knowledge;
  • Dutch policy on air and space travel.

The role and responsibilities of other ministers

Other ministers are responsible for the research that ministries conduct in their own policy areas, in support of their own policies. Some ministries are responsible for institutes working in their policy area, which also perform research tasks. Examples include the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM, part of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI, part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment) and the Ministry of Security and Justice’s Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) and Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).

Central government advisory bodies

Central government has several advisory bodies that advise on science policy. The main ones are:

  • the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI). The AWTI was established by act of parliament. It is an independent advisory body with members from different areas of society, including research institutions and companies. Its official responsibility has been defined as follows: ‘The Council shall advise the government and both Houses of the States-General on the policy to be pursued at national and international level with regard to science, technology and innovation, with a particular focus on the connection between science, technology and innovation and their use for economic and societal purposes’. The AWTI obtains input for its advisory reports from the field of science and innovation. Besides producing advisory reports and letters, the AWTI also performs background studies. The AWTI website contains information on the Council’s advisory reports, procedures and organisation, as well as the latest information on published reports and current advisory processes;
  • the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The KNAW’s tasks include advising the government – either on its own initiative or on request – on the practice of science. The KNAW’s advisory role is laid down in the Higher Education and Research Act (known by the abbreviation WHW), and the organisation has advisory councils in various disciplines that enable it to meet this responsibility. These advisory councils consist of academics and researchers from universities, research institutes, civil-society organisations and industry. Some are members of the KNAW, while others are not. The work of the advisory council is supported by the KNAW Staff Department.


Provincial authorities and larger local authorities also develop policy on knowledge and innovation, generally as part of regional economic policy, and focusing mainly on innovation, with knowledge serving to support innovation processes. Some provincial authorities implement the policy themselves, while others commission separate organisations to do so, such as regional development agencies or partnerships. Besides using their own revenue for this purpose – some of it derived from the sale of shares in energy companies – the provincial authorities also receive funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The regional investment strategies for the period 2014-2020 provide the basis for the provincial authorities’ regional economic policies.


The European Union’s science policy is designed to make Europe a dynamic and competitive knowledge economy and increase its competitiveness. The policy is also intended to help address ‘societal grand challenges’.

The EU first introduced framework programmes in 1984. These are multi-annual research programmes to which financial resources are specially allocated. The EU member states decide on the themes to be addressed in the programmes, and researchers, research organisations and companies can submit proposals to the European Commission in response to ‘calls’. The Commission uses external experts to assess the merits of the proposals, and then takes the decision as to whether to award funding.

The programmes are also intended to encourage collaboration between European research groups.

The eighth framework programmes is currently underway. Entitled Horizon 2020, it will run from 2014 to 2020. The scale of the framework programmes has grown over the years; Horizon 2020 has over 70 million euros in funding.

The current programme has three goals: to reinforce scientific excellence, strengthen industrial leadership and tackle societal challenges.

Europe is also keen to establish a European Research Area (ERA) with free movement of researchers, scientific knowledge and technologies. The goal of the ERA is to improve Europe’s research performance, which in turn should lead to economic growth and create jobs. Five priorities have been identified for the ERA:

  • more effective national research systems;

  • optimal transnational cooperation and competition;

  • an open labour market for researchers;

  • gender equality and gender mainstreaming in research;

  • optimal circulation, access to and transfer of scientific knowledge. Besides policy focusing on the national level, this also includes policy targeting regions within countries.


In short, the national government, Dutch provinces and large municipalities, and the European Union are at the helm of Dutch science. Within the national government, the ministries of Education, Culture and Science and EZK are mainly involved in national science policy in the Netherlands. They are mainly advised by the AWTI and the KNAW, as well as by the WRR, SER, SCP, CPB, PBL and the Education Council.

Within provinces and large municipalities, science policy is developed in the field of knowledge and innovation, usually part of regional economic policy and primarily aimed at innovation. The European Union is striving for a dynamic and competitive knowledge economy in order to increase European competitiveness. In addition, the policy must contribute to solve urgent social problems. To make this possible, the EU has introduced framework programs (multi-annual research programmes) since 1984 and is striving for an European Research Area.