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Report
11 March 2016

Spinning plates

Funding streams and prioritisation in Dutch university research
Funding Top sectors Grant application pressure
This report shows that a much larger proportion of Dutch university budgets consists of competitive project funding than the official figures show. The title refers to plate spinning, a circus act in which a juggler tries to spin as many plates as possible at one time on a series of poles.

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Summary

The present report offers a detailed analysis of how university research  is financed in the  Netherlands. It is based  on an analysis of the budgets and  annual financial reports of government and of research  organisations.

We have also used data drawn from our surveys of university deans and  members of the  Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and  Sciences and  The Young Academy for our report 'De ontwikkeling van vakgebieden in Nederland'

Competitive funding

Our report shows that a much larger proportion of Dutch  university budgets consists of competitive project funding than the official figures show. Funding bodies such as the European Union and the Netherlands Organisation  for Scientific Research (NWO) usually cover only a portion of the total costs  of a research project, leaving universities to cover the rest with ‘matching’ funds. They do that by using moneyreceived through the first funding stream (i.e. direct government funding) – meant to pay for teaching, research and  the general university infrastructure  – to cover their share of  projects that have been awarded  funding.

Science policy and faculty

The  mechanism described above forces universities to make choices at faculty level  because that is where external funding enters the university. It is in the faculties that science policy ultimately takes shape. There are major differences between faculties, however. That is why the various policy measures that faculties deal with affect each  one differently.

Difference in perspectives

The unanticipated way in which funding streams and policy measures affect one another also causes major differences in how policymakers and  researchers perceive matters. Individual researchers may find themselves in very different situations.

Conclusions of the study

  1. Deans play a key role in coordinating different types of funding  and policy measures.
  2. The policy effects vary as much within research fields as between them.
  3. The pressure to compete  for funding, fuelled, for example, by the rise in EU funding  and  thus growing  pressure  to match  funds, is much greater than the  ratio between  first and  second-stream funding would have us believe.

Spinning plates

Plate spinning is a circus  act in which a juggler tries to spin as many plates as possible at one  time on  a series of poles. It was the  image  that forced itself upon our researchers as they analysed  the responses to their survey of university deans. At first glance, science policy appears to involve two parties : government and researchers. However, a whole series of policy measures and allocation  mechanisms have been created between these two that converge  within the university. In the real world, it is up to university deans to keep  the plates spinning, something  that considerable energy and attention.

 

Preferred citation:
Elizabeth Koier, Barend van der Meulen, Edwin Horlings and Rosalie Belder, Spinning plates - Funding streams and prioritisation in Dutch university research. The Hague, Rathenau Instituut 2016

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Conclusion

  1. Deans play a key role in coordinating different types of funding  and policy measures.
  2. The policy effects vary as much within research  fields as between them.
  3. The  pressure  to compete  for funding, fuelled, for example, by the rise in EU funding  and  thus growing  pressure  to match  funds, is much  greater than the ratio between  first and  second-stream funding would have us believe.
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