NWO takes measures to reduce high application pressure

3 October 2017

The competition for the funding of research proposals continues to increase, while at the same time the percentage of proposals actually awarded funding is decreasing. This is a problem for both researchers and research councils in the Netherlands and abroad. Due to the lack of sufficient funds, research councils are forced to reject research proposals of high quality. Over the past few months, NWO has consulted Dutch researchers, knowledge institutions and sister organisations abroad about their experiences and the possible solutions. This process has resulted in several broadly supported measures that NWO will implement to reduce the application pressure for researchers.

‘The high application pressure is a complex problem that has a variety of causes. During the consultation process, NWO received a lot of support from its partners. This support is indispensable because the measures concern the entire research field. Everybody will have to contribute’, says NWO president Stan Gielen.

Closer collaboration with universities

During the National Working Conference about Application Pressure held in April 2017, it became clear that many stakeholders felt that universities should take more responsibility for their personnel policy. Grants received from NWO have become too decisive for an academic career. This point requires greater collaboration between the universities and NWO. Universities should realise a more active policy in which they encourage researchers only to submit a proposal to NWO if the research fits within the university's priorities and has a high chance of being awarded funding. NWO shall provide the universities with more detailed information about the assessment of submitted proposals. This will enable universities to be more selective in allowing the best researchers and consortia to submit proposals to NWO.

Postponing calls

Another measure that NWO will take is to postpone calls for which it expects the award rate to be less than 25%, until sufficient funding is available. Which calls this measure will apply to is still being considered. The Talent Scheme will not fall under this measure, as NWO will take other specific measures for this programme.

Measures Talent Scheme

During the consultation process, it became clear that some researchers and Dutch university executive boards are in favour of better harmonising the calls for proposals of the European ERC grant programmes and the Talent Scheme programme. NWO will reserve part of the current Talent Scheme funds to award grants to researchers who received an excellent review for their proposal for the ERC Starting Grant or ERC Consolidator Grant but who nevertheless were not awarded funding. A condition for this is that they do not submit a proposal to both programmes at once. If in that year a researcher has submitted a Talent Scheme proposal in a given year, then the Talent Scheme assessment will apply. The advantage of this measure is that researchers only need to write a single proposal.

Another measure is that NWO will introduce a new assessment criterion. Besides quality and past performance, an embedding guarantee will have to be issued by the university to demonstrate its commitment for the embedding and realisation of the project within the organisation. With this measure, NWO wants to ensure that researchers first seek connection with a university before they submit a proposal to NWO.

Starting an experiment with the sandpit model

In June 2016, the Dutch House of Representatives passed a motion that calls upon NWO to experiment with an alternative form of research assessment. NWO has complied with this motion and will start an experiment with the sand pit model for a limited number of grants that are suitable for this. In this model, a committee holds talks with a number of consortia to bring together the best ideas, expertise and facilities.

NWO does not exclude other experiments, such as the Self-Organised Fund Allocation model (SOFA) in which scientists distribute the funding among themselves. However, such an experiment would require a substantial deployment of funds and for the time being is considered to be premature because important questions still remain unanswered. NWO will therefore further study this by having several PhD students answer these questions and exploring whether this model is usable for specific objectives within NWO.

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Source: NWO


Dhr. O.R. (Olivier) Morot (voor mediavragen) Dhr. O.R. (Olivier) Morot (voor mediavragen) t: +31 (0)6 53175 377 o.morot@nwo.nl