NWO steadily progressing with implementation of measures to reduce application pressure

31 May 2018

In April and June 2017, NWO organised a national and an international working conference on the respective topics of peer review and application pressure. Subsequently, in September of that year NWO announced which measures it is planning to take to reduce the application pressure for researchers. By implementing these measures NWO aims to achieve an award rate of at least 25%.

In the meantime, NWO has already implemented a number of these measures. In February, for example, NWO announced that researchers will be asked to provide an ‘embedding guarantee’ for the Vidi 2018 and Veni 2019 subsidy rounds. The embedding guarantee enables universities to more rigorously select which researchers should/should not invest energy in preparing often time-consuming applications. NWO’s Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) and Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) domains will also pilot the use of a pre-proposal phase for the Veni 2019 subsidy round based on CVs and a concise research idea.

NWO is conducting additional research on other measures. For example, it is working with a number of experts to develop a research agenda and make a thorough appraisal of whether the Self-organized fund allocation (SOFA) model can be implemented. In addition, NWO is currently investigating the extent of the Matthew effect in the Netherlands.

Overview and status of the measures to reduce application pressure

In September 2017, NWO announced which measures it intends to take to reduce the application pressure for researchers. The measures have been divided into three categories:

  1. Measures that NWO will develop and implement
  2. Measures that NWO deems to require additional research before being considered further
  3. Related measures: selection criteria and other arrangements

NWO is aiming for an award rate of at least 25%. The measures should help to achieve this goal. An NWO-wide team is developing the various measures, and in the process it is investigating the anticipated effects of some of these measures. There is regular consultation with the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). The universities are also kept informed through the NL Liaison Officers dialogue.

The progress per measure is described briefly below.

Category 1: measures that NWO will develop and implement

1. NWO has decided to experiment with new models for consortia formation for a limited number of suitable funding instruments.

Status

NWO and the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) are currently conducting an assessment of ongoing initiatives in order to compile a list of best practices. These best practices will help to give shape to the yet to be defined experiment.

2. NWO is reserving part of the Talent Scheme funding to fund researchers who received an excellent assessment for their proposal for the ERC Starting Grant or ERC Consolidator Grant but who nevertheless were not awarded funding as a result of limited financial resources, unless they submitted a Talent Scheme proposal that year as well.

Status

Currently research is being conducted to gain insight into the effects of this measure on the number of available grants in the various Talent Scheme rounds.

3. NWO has decided to include the scientific embedding of a project as a criterion when assessing Talent Scheme research proposals.

Status

On 27 February 2018, NWO announced that researchers will be asked to provide an ‘embedding guarantee’ for the Vidi 2018 and Veni 2019 subsidy rounds. The templates for the embedding guarantees are now available on NWO’s website. There is also an FAQ that can be consulted.

4. NWO is initiating discussions with the VSNU to make arrangements concerning the role of NWO and the universities in personnel policy, the universities’ part in reducing application numbers and the role of project awards in that respect.

Status

Several meetings have taken place with the director and the office of the VSNU. Until now, these meetings have mainly focused on the implementation of the embedding guarantee (point 3).

5. NWO has decided to provide the institutions with more detailed annual information on the assessment of their submitted proposals and award rates, broken down by funding instrument and research area.

Status
At the moment, there is already a more detailed overview available than before on the pages of the NWO website outlining the awarded grants. In addition, NWO and the VSNU want to further shape this measure in consultation with the NL Liaison Officers dialogue.

6. NWO has decided that, when awarding a project to a staff member with a tenure track appointment, the university must first appoint a sponsor and/or supervisor to guarantee the continuation and supervision of the project if the tenure track staff member in question leaves the university prematurely.

Status
NWO intends to implement this guarantee in the course of 2018.

Category 2: measures that NWO deems to require additional research before being considered further

7. In consultation with the VSNU, NWO will investigate how best to avoid the Matthew effect.

Status
In the framework of the ‘Harmonisation of NWO instruments’ process limiting conditions for applicants have been developed that will have an effect in this area. In addition, NWO is currently investigating the extent of the Matthew effect in the Netherlands.

8. NWO is prepared to provide limited funds for the appointment of a few researchers who would conduct further analysis of the SOFA model based on a targeted research agenda in order to suggest when and/or under which circumstances the model might be useful.

Status
NWO is organising a small working conference in June. Several experts will develop a research agenda during this conference based on the SOFA model. In doing so, they will identify which questions need to be answered in order to make a thorough appraisal of whether the SOFA model can be implemented and if so how.

9. NWO will further investigate the options for using preselection based on CVs for Veni applications and will ask the Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) board to continue the preliminary study on this topic, extending it to Veni applications in other domains as well. Staff of the SSH domain then visited the universities in order to explain the measure and gather input.

The Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) domain announced that it would also work with pre-proposals in the upcoming Veni round based on CVs and a concise research idea. On 19 April the domains organised two joint information sessions to provide potential candidates with further information. ZonMw is also currently experimenting with this measure, namely in the framework of the call for a ‘Practice and postdoc fellowship in mental healthcare’.

Category 3: related measures: selection criteria and other arrangements

10. NWO has decided to provide funds for research to evaluate the (internationally accepted) criteria for calls and assessment procedures, so that NWO can proceed in a more evidence-based manner in order to achieve its objectives.

Status
This measure will be dealt with at a later stage.

11. All calls within the framework of the Top Sector policy that involve NWO funds should be realised via NWO. This is laid down in the Knowledge and Innovation Contract concluded by NWO on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The NWO domains will critically review the assessments of projects in Top Sector calls and ensure that scientific quality, in addition to connecting with users in a consortium and the strength of a consortium, remains a key priority or is included even more explicitly in the assessment.

Status

The team at NWO handling the implementation and monitoring of the plans from NWO’s contribution to the 2018-2019 Knowledge and Innovation Contract will see to it that this measure is observed.

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Source: NWO