NWO’s core task is to fund talented scientists and research facilities. NWO selects and funds the best research proposals based on the advice of specialist scientists and relevant experts in the Netherlands and abroad (peer review). NWO funds more than 5,800 research projects at universities and knowledge institutions every year.
NWO as a source of funding for research
The majority of public money for research goes straight to universities from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. That is direct government research funding. In addition, NWO receives public money for science from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and from almost all the other government ministries, which is then distributed by means of competition to the universities and national research institutes. NWO manages this competitive research funding and ensures that the money reaches the best scientific talent and the best research proposals. Business and civil society organisations also provide financial support for research in their sphere of activity through NWO, typically in the form of jointly funded themed programmes.
An important part of the budget is spent on open research and talent programmes. Another part of the budget is spent on the eight NWO research institutes and on programme funding for research facilities. NWO funds specific scientific research that contributes towards solving societal challenges by means of themed programmes. NWO also makes money available for other activities that strengthen science, such as open access publication of research data and results.
The divisions and foundations under the NWO umbrella organise funding for research. Funding for science-wide and cross-boundary programmes is handled jointly. Scientists and research institutions can submit an application for funding for their research projects, large equipment and databases as soon as NWO publishes a call for proposals. The call for proposals describes the aim of the research, who may apply, the amount of money available and which criteria will be applied during the assessment and selection.
Assessment and selection
NWO uses peer review by external independent experts, who are specialists in the field of the research proposals submitted. They give their opinion of the research proposal and submit it to an assessment committee. This committee likewise comprises independent experts, especially active scientists. Applicants receive the anonymised assessment of their proposal and are given the opportunity to respond. The task of the committee is to weigh up and assess all the proposals – in conjunction with the associated opinions of reviewers and the applicants’ rebuttals – and issue advice to the decision-making board. This procedure ensures that the best research proposals are selected by means of competition and on the basis of independent advice from experts.