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Science policy and innovation policy

fact sheet
01 January 2018
Innovation Policy
In the Netherlands responsibility for science policy and innovation policy rests with two ministries: the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) is responsible for science policy, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) is responsible for innovation policy. As a result, these policies are set out in two separate policy documents. In practice, however, these two policy areas are increasingly connected and overlapping. This factsheet discusses the goals and instruments of science and innovation policy in the Netherlands.

In short

  • Current science policy is aimed at finding answers to current and future issues. Instruments to find these are financing, legislation and regulations, and administrative consultation with scientific organisations.
  • In innovation, an integrated policy is being pursued with approach focused on nine ‘top sectors’. In addition, the policy is increasingly mission-driven.
  • Science and innovation policy is also guided by European policy. With a focus on increasing prosperity, well-being, competitiveness, growth and employment.

1. Science policy

In November 2014 the present government published its policy document ‘Science Strategy 2025: Choices for the Future’, which forms the basis of science policy. It emphasizes the importance of science: science seeks answers to current issues, but also ensures knowledge development so that we remain prepared for future challenges. Against the background of three challenges (growing international competition, the need to connect science more closely with society and industry, and the growing pressure on Dutch scientists), the government sets out three goals with actions designed to achieve them.

Science seeks answers to current issues, but also ensures knowledge development so that we remain prepared for future challenges.

Goal 1: World-class science in the Netherlands
The present government is keen to ensure that Dutch science retains its leading international position. We head the field in a number of research areas, and there must be scope there for creativity and innovative ideas. In addition, science could contribute more to efforts to tackle social challenges and enhance economic growth. The science strategy sets out three instruments that can help achieve this:

  • A National Science Agenda based on questions put forward by scientists, research universities, universities of professional education, civil-society organisations and interested members of the public. The agenda defines the themes on which science will focus. The present government intends to have the agenda play a key role in the negotiations on a new Framework Agreement with the universities. The first National Science Agenda was published on 27 November 2015.
  • Money: €50 million is yearly available in matched funding for European projects, with the aim of allowing more room for scientists’ creativity and innovative ideas.
  • A permanent committee was established in 2015 to advise on investment in the large-scale science infrastructure.

Goal 2: Dutch science more connected with society and industry and with maximum impact
The present government wants to ensure that by 2025 Dutch science has maximum impact in society and industry. The science strategy includes several actions designed to achieve this, including:

  • Enhancing open access to scientific publications and the underlying data.
  • Encouraging private investment in science (alumni, other private individuals, companies, charities).
  • Encouraging science communication and more public involvement in science.
  • Continuing cooperation between public and private researchers in top sectors through the ‘top consortia for knowledge and innovation’ (TKIs).
  • Better use of patented knowledge in industry.
  • Heavier weighting of valorisation in NWO’s (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) assessment of research proposals.
  • Strengthening of the role of universities of professional education and practically-oriented research in knowledge development.
  • Improved cooperation between the authorities and academia.
  • An effective advisory system.

Goal 3: Dutch science will also be a seedbed for talent in 2025
The present government wants to give talented scientists the opportunity to reach their full potential, with actions like:

  • An HRM policy focused on teaching and valorisation, as well as research.
  • Attracting highly talented scientists from other countries.
  • Providing more scope for a differentiated system of promotion.
  • Creating more room for a balanced staff profile at universities.
  • Reducing the pressure to publish and the costs of competition.

In February 2016 the Minister of and State Secretary for Education, Culture and Science submitted the first progress report on the Science Strategy (in Dutch) to parliament.

Generic instruments of science policy

The government plays a role in science policy in three ways: through funding, legislation and dialogue with the field.

The government provides direct structural funding for higher education institutions (research universities, university medical centres, universities of professional education) and a number of research institutes (such as the institutes of applied scientific research (TO2), the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI)), in order to maintain the research infrastructure. The government also commissions research directly from research institutes on a project or programme basis, and also provides indirect research funding via the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

A number of scientific organisations have direct ties with the government. Besides funding, this often takes the form of a relationship on a statutory basis. This applies to the universities and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI), NWO and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The legislation sets out the duties, responsibilities and activities of the organisations concerned. It also defines the role (powers) of the government in respect of the organisation, such as the right to appoint staff or officially approve documents. Since the introduction of the enterprise policy and the top sector approach in 2010 (see below) the Ministry of Economic Affairs has assumed responsibility for the governance of the TO2 institutes.

Consultations with scientific organisations
A significant proportion of the relationship between the government and research institutions takes the form of dialogue and consultations, which provide an opportunity for detailed agreements to be made, and any problems or other matters to be discussed.

Overview of policy and funders of public research

Overzicht beleid en financiers publiek onderzoek
Source: Rathenau Instituut op basis van TWIN 2019-2015 en R&D-data uit CBS Statline

2. Innovation policy

Dutch innovation policy (part of enterprise policy, including the top sectors approach since 2010), which complements science policy, also has three goals:

  • The Netherlands intends to be one of the top five knowledge economies in the world by 2020.
  • By 2020 the Netherlands will spend 2.5% of its GDP on R&D.
  • Public and private parties will contribute at least €800 million to the top consortia for knowledge and innovation (TKIs) by 2020, at least 40% of which will come from industry. 

These innovation goals are monitored every year. The table below shows progress up to 2015.

The basis of current innovation policy is the Coalition agreement of October 2010, in which it was agreed that the theme-based innovation grants for companies would be phased out and replaced by more tax incentives to encourage companies to invest in R&D. Further details of these arrangements were announced in a policy document outlining a new enterprise policy which the then government published in February 2011. Besides tax incentives, it was also proposed that an innovation fund be established for SMEs, which would make more risk capital available to innovative enterprises.

The specific policy of innovation programmes was replaced by an approach focused on nine ‘top sectors’. The aim is to tackle obstacles to growth in these sectors and to encourage research and innovation through public-private partnership. Part of the NWO and TO2 institutions’ budget would be earmarked to increase valorisation of knowledge.

With the top sector approach, the aim is to tackle obstacles to growth in these sectors and to encourage research and innovation through public-private partnership.

In the Coalition agreement of October 2017 it is agreed to focus the top sector policy more on the economic chances that three public themes offer:  energy transition/sustainability; agriculture/water/food; and quantum/hightech/nano/fotonica. Furthermore the goverment will encourage innovation by using the Small Business Innovation Research arrangement as a launching customer, for example from the Ministry of Defense and Rijkswaterstaat. Also the innovation incentives for SMEs and topsectors will be extended.

Top sectors approach

The core of enterprise policy is the tailored approach focused on nine top sectors of the Dutch economy. The present government selected nine sectors in which the Netherlands excels (some of them as a result of its geographical location or history). These sectors are highly export-oriented and perform a lot of their R&D in the Netherlands. The government wants to tackle administrative obstacles, improve training, remove trade barriers, strengthen the infrastructure, abolish unnecessary regulations and make it easier for knowledge workers to be recruited from other countries. Financial resources are being targeted at these nine top sectors across the entire national budget. However, these resources are limited in comparison with the generic funding used for research and innovation across central government. Industry, the authorities and knowledge institutions have drawn up an agenda for each sector. They were presented to the economic affairs minister of the time on 17 June 2011. The government responded to these agendas in the form of a policy document submitted to parliament, entitled: ‘To the Top: enterprise policy in action’.

The new enterprise policy came into effect on 2 April 2012. The authorities, representatives of the top sectors and knowledge institutions have signed knowledge and innovation contracts defining their role in the system of fundamental research, applied research and valorisation. The letter ‘enterprise policy in action’ of 2 April 2012 contains the first Dutch knowledge and innovation contract and the top sectors’ Human Capital Agendas. The purpose of a knowledge and innovation contract is to ensure that knowledge institutions and the authorities invest jointly in R&D and innovation. The Human Capital Agendas are focused on training youngsters in skills that the labour market needs. The innovation contract has been renewed twice in the meantime, in 2013 and 2015.

Instruments of innovation policy

The innovation element of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate’ enterprise policy consists of generic instruments for all innovative companies and specific instruments that focus on the top sectors. Several instruments are examined below. More information can be found in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate’ budget memorandum and on the website. Annual progress reports are published on enterprise policy, and they also evaluate the policy instruments. On 9 October 2017 the government submitted the Enterprise Policy Report 2017 and Enterprise Policy Monitor 2017 to the parliament. In 2017 Dialogic also screened the ministry’s enterprise policy. Its report and the government’s response were submitted to parliament in July 2017.

Top consortia for knowledge and innovation (TKIs)
Industry, knowledge institutions and the authorities collaborate in what are known as ‘top consortia for knowledge and innovation’, or TKIs. They engage in research initiatives across the board, from fundamental research to market-ready innovations.

TKI allowance and MIT for public-private partnership
To encourage industry to participate in public-private partnerships, the TKIs receive a special allowance from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). For every euro that industry invests in R&D with a research organisation, the TKI receives 25 cents. This allows it to fund new public-private research. The budget for the TKI allowance is set to rise to approximately €130 million in 2020. The majority of public funding focused on PPP is acquired by aligning individual ministries’ programmes and the efforts of NWO, KNAW and TO2 institutes with thematic roadmaps.

The SME Top Sectors Innovation Incentive Scheme (MIT) was launched in 2013 to improve connections between SMEs and the top sectors. The MIT includes a number of grant elements (from R&D partnerships to innovation brokers) for which SMEs can apply. Since 2015, the regions have been working in partnership with the Ministry of Economic Affairs on this and other schemes.

Tax incentives – generic
A tax incentive scheme for R&D, governed by the Research and Development (Promotion) Act (WBSO), has existed since 1994. Under this scheme, the Dutch government compensates companies for a proportion of the wage costs and other costs and expenditure associated with R&D projects. It is intended for Dutch companies engaged in research or development projects, ranging from start-ups, the self-employed and SMEs to multinationals in every economic sector. Companies actually receive these tax benefits when they file their tax return with the tax and customs administration. The Netherlands Enterprise Agency administers the WBSO. €1.163 million is available for this scheme in 2018.

Enterprise risk finance
The other major generic instruments designed to promote innovation take the form of resources that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate uses to reduce the problems companies – particularly innovative SMEs at various stages of development – encounter on the capital market. In 2015 these instruments were merged to form the DVI (Dutch Venture Initiative), part of the Future Fund. If an initiative is successful, the company repays the holding or loan to the fund so that the money can be re-invested.

EU policy

National policy on science and innovation policy is supplemented and influenced by European policy in these areas. European policy focuses on enhancing prosperity, welfare, competitiveness, growth and job creation. Europe is also seeking solutions to major societal challenges such as climate change, demographic ageing, and energy and other types of security. Since 1984 the EU has funded several multi-year research and innovation programmes, the most recent of them being Horizon 2020, which has three major pillars:

  • Excellent science
  • Industrial leadership
  • Societal challenges

A large number of programmes are being financed from Horizon 2020 resources, for which researchers, research institutions and companies can submit proposals.


An interministerial policy study on scientific research performed in preparation for the Science Strategy.

Two reports published at the same time as the Science Strategy 2025: a Facts and Figures publication by the Rathenau Institute on what motivates researchers and an advisory report on the structure of NWO.

Strategic Agenda for Higher Education and Research 2015-2025.

Performance agreements with research universities and universities of professional education (2012).

Statistics Netherlands Top Sectors Monitor 2017.

OECD Review of innovation policy in the Netherlands (April 2014).

Top Sectors Innovation Contract 2016-2017.