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Practice-oriented research at universities of applied sciences

fact sheet
26 October 2020
Universities of Applied Sciences research

Photo: Marieke Barendse

Haagse Hogeschool - Marieke Barendse.jpg
In this factsheet, we look at the developments in practice-oriented research at universities of applied sciences. The number of professors active in practice-oriented research has increased from 270 in 2007 to 694 in 2019. The number of people involved in the average professorship has increased since 2016, but the number of PhD candidates has decreased. Funding for practice-oriented research keeps increasing, but the income per professor decreased slightly in 2019. The impact of practice-oriented research was rated as good for almost all sectors in their evaluations.

In short

  • 694 professors spend 430 FTE on research. (in 2019)
  • After 2016, the number of PhD students in professorships has declined by 15%. The number of professors and researchers grew (with 7% and 12%).
  • The impact of practice-oriented research is mostly rated as good.


In the figures below, we look at the number of professors, the total staff in the professorships and the research funding. In addition, we show the number of students per professor, how many students are involved in a Centre of Expertise, the increase in the number of Centres and how professorships were evaluated.

Practice-oriented research is a relatively new task for universities of applied sciences. In 2001, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science and the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (then the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences) concluded a covenant to strengthen the knowledge function of universities of applied sciences by appointing professors and developing knowledge circles.

Through practice-oriented research, the quality of education was increased and the ties between universities of applied sciences and society and the business community improved. This can be achieved in three ways. Firstly, professors acquire analytical skills and subject-specific knowledge, which they can then pass on to their students. Secondly, students in turn contribute to research themselves. And thirdly, ties with companies and non-profit organisations are strengthened because they can submit their research questions to universities of applied sciences.

The professorship is the basis of practice-based research. Each professorship consists of one or more professors, researchers, PhD candidates and support staff.

The number of professors for practice-oriented research increases

The figure above shows that the number of professors grew rapidly from 2001 (when the first professors were appointed) to 2009. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of professors grew from 270 to 486 persons. After that, the growth was somewhat slower.

Between 2009 and 2017, 193 professors were appointed. In terms of FTEs, the number of professors grew by 5% to 8% per year during this period. The part-time factor remained more or less the same, around 60%. Because the average part-time factor dropped by 3% in 2017 compared to 2016, the number of FTEs remains the same, despite a growth in the number of professors by 33. In 2018, the number of professors shrunk slightly, to 16. Due the part-time factor increasing to 63%, the total FTE nonetheless grew. In 2019 39% of the professors at universities of applied science was female (source: Lectorenbestand Regieorgaan SIA, March 2022). 

Size of professorships is increasing

Not only is the number of professorships growing, but so is the number of other staff involved in the professorships. We can see this in the figure above. The number of professors increased by 5% in 2019 and the available FTE, including those of professors, increased by 4%. Because professorship staff is often employed on a part-time basis, the FTE is a better measure to keep track of. 

The FTEs grew in particular in 2016. This was the case for all categories of staff instead of PhD students. The growth of professors and researchers was also persistent after 2016. The number of PhD student FTEs decreased after 2016 by 19.7% (84 FTEs). Beyond that, it stands out the the number of FTEs in support staff grew substantially in 2018 (13%), but decreases in 2019 (309 FTEs) to the level it had in 2016 (308 FTEs).

If we compare the growth in professors to the growth in professorship staff, we see that the average size of a professorship has grown slightly between 2009 and 2019: from 2.73 FTEs to 3.53 FTEs (and from 8 to 10 people). The average size of a professorship has been more or less stable since 2016, but it decreased slightly in 2019 (-2% in FTEs, -1.54% in persons). 

Professors often active in several sectors at the same time

More than a third of the professors indicate that they are active in more than one sector (source: Lectorenbestand Regieorgaan SIA, November 2019). An overview of the sectors in which the professors conduct research:

28% researches social studies
27% researches health
26% researches education
21% researches science and technology
17% researches economics
10% researches art
13% researches agriculture

More Centres of Expertise

Universities of applied sciences collaborate with each other and with their surroundings in various public-private partnerships, such as field labs, living labs, innovation workshops, professor platforms and campuses. Centres of Expertise are specific collaborative forms for universities of applied sciences. It has been agreed in the Sector Agreement for Universities of Applied Sciences that these Centres must increase in number and be strengthened in the coming years (Sector Agreement for Universities of Applied Sciences 2018). This growth is clearly visible, as the figure below shows. In April 2019 there were 57 Centres of Expertise and in 2022 59 Centres of Expertise were affiliated with the Katapult network (Katapult, 2022). 

Increased funding for practices-oriented research

In the figures below, we discuss the financing of practical research. The three largest sources of funding for professorships are the institutional public funds, the competitive public funds and the competitive private funds. These are also referred to as the first, second and third flow of funding. 

As the figure above shows, investments in applied research more than doubled from 2009 to 2016. They rose from 101 million euros in 2009 to 217 million euros in 2016. In 2019 total income increased by 2% to 265 million euros. The growth is most notable in the third stream of funds. It increased by 2.1% whereas it declined in the two preceding years (-0.3% in 2017 and -4.4% in 2018). The first and second streams of funds increased by 3.3% and 1.2% respectively in 2019. This was 7.5% and 5% a year earlier for these funding streams. The rate of increase has thus declined. 

The share of funds obtained in competition (second and third flow of funds) in the total funds for practice-based research increased after 2015: from 34% in 2015 to 41% in 2019. This growth is mainly due to the use of extra resources via Regieorgaan SIA, from the coalition agreement of 2012. Income from the second and third flows of funding increased by 83% between 2013 and 2019, while research investments from the national contribution will only grow by 52% in that same period. In a policy letter from the Minister of Education, Culture and Science (OCW, 2022), a yearly investment for practice-oriented research of 100 million euros is foreseen for the next 10 years, 50 million euros of which are structural investments. The revenue is therefore expected to grow over the coming years. 

Revenues per professorship decreased in 2019

If we compare the investments in applied research with the growth in the number of professors, we see that the average income per professor is increasing, but decreased slightly in 2019. Overall, the revenue has grown from 207,819 euros per professor in 2009 to 381,755 euros per professor in 2019 (84% increase). In 2019 the number of professors grew more than the revenue, resulting in a decline of 3% in revenue per professor. The lagging growth rate is mainly found in the first and second stream of funds, as we indicated above. This is the first time since 2013 that the income per professor decreased. Note: for this calculation, we assume that there is one professorship per professor. In practice, this does not always have to be the case. 

6.3% of the budget is for research

Research income forms a relatively small part of the total income of the universities of applied sciences, as the figure below shows. Funds for research (from all funding streams) make up 6.3% of the resources of universities of applied sciences (from 4.3% in 2012 to 6% in 2018). By way of comparison, 60% of funding at Dutch universities is earmarked for research.

Impact is rated as good

Practice-oriented research should lead to further knowledge development and impact on the education at the universities of applied sciences, on practice and on society at large. The ministry and the universities of applied sciences are committed to further developing the number of collaborative ventures and raising the profile of applied research in centres of excellence. 

Regieorgaan SIA, which finances practice-oriented research, made an overview of the most important forms of output from projects with RAAK funding, based on the projects' evaluations. This output was categorised by the three directions in which practice-oriented research should have an impact: practice/society, education and research. Examples of output that facilitates impact on practice and society are: forming durable collaborations with partners from practice, influencing policy interventions, and providing practitioners with training. Impact on education comes from: contributing to the curriculum of the study programs, developing educational resources, and internationalisation. Impact on research happens through: publishing research results, research collaborations, and increasing the quality of education. These categories of output (and the resulting impact) are hard to quantify but are nonetheless important ways that practice-oriented research contributes to innovation in society. 

Practice-oriented research is, furthermore, evaluated based on the Brancheprotocol Kwaliteitszorg Onderzoek 2016-2022. In the figure below almost all sectors' impact is rated as good. In the evaluations, the impact of practice-oriented research is therefore seen as one of its strengths. All sectors, furthermore, score good to sufficient on their research profile, organisation and research standard, and they fulfil the quality assurance requirements (which is the highest possible score). Only the art professorships score on average good on their research profile. This sector is also rated as good on the other criteria. 

The degree of cooperation and networking with organisations in professional practice and the social environment is an indicator of the conditions for impact. No time series is yet available to map out the development of cooperation between professorships and their environment. However, we do know that in 2020, professors worked together with 383 companies, 183 public knowledge institutions, 136 knowledge institutions and 123 other institutions within the RAAK projects (part of the second flow of funds) (Regieorgaan SIA, 2019).

Delta premium

The visibility of practice-based research has been increased with the Delta premium since 2019. The premium (twice 500,000 euros) is awarded every two years to two professors who, with their research groups and network, make an important contribution to society.

The link between research and education is strengthening

One of the conditions for achieving impact is a good connection between research and education. Although teaching by the professors themselves is often not seen as the most important task of the professorship, professors do consider it important to contribute to education in their field of study given their position (Feiten & cijfers praktijkgericht onderzoek bij lectoraten van hogescholen, 2016) (Dutch). To get an idea of the connection with education, we look at the number of students per professor and the involvement of students in public-private partnerships. 

The number of students per FTE of a professor is developing positively: from 1388 in 2011 to 1079 in 2019.

Note: In 2010, the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (HBO-raad) (the forerunner of the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences) indicated that it would aim for a ratio of 720 students for each FTE of a professor. In order to achieve this target, a further 215 FTEs in professors would have to be added. With the current average part-time factor of 0.63 FTE, this would require an additional 341 professors. In the meantime, the focus of the policy has changed from number of students per professor to the embedding and strengthening of the research groups in universities of applied sciences, the quality of applied research and the connection with education and professional practice.

The following figure shows the number of students per professor (person, not FTE) in universities of applied sciences for three categories of sizes. The graph shows that, on average, smaller universities of applied sciences have relatively few students per professor and large universities of applied sciences have many students per professor.

Number of students per professor
Source: SIA April 2019 (professors) & Student Finance (DUO) 1 HO grade (students).
Notes: There is no microdata with the appointment data per individual professor, nor per sector or university of applied sciences. Therefore, this graph is based on the number of professors, and not on the number of FTEs.

We have no reliable time-series data on the number of students who have been involved in research in the professorships. For an indication, we can look at the involvement of students in public-private partnerships (PPPs) at universities of applied sciences. In 2019 and 2021, Katapult, a network of educational PPP alliances, asked the PPP alliances from their network what proportion of students in the study programmes is directly reached by their research, for example through a project, work placement or part of the study programme. Only Centres of Expertise were surveyed for Universities of Applied Science. 37% of these Centres reached a maximum of 20% of the students in 2021. 17% reached more than 80% of the students in 2021. This is an improvement from 2019. More PPPs reached a large share of students.  


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