AES looks back on 2017

21 August 2018

Now that NWO’s annual report for 2017 has been published, AES chairman Jaap Schouten looks back on an eventful year. As a funding body and ‘broker’, we brought many scientists and companies together. We also organised a large number of new partnerships and made a concerted effort to tackle complex challenges.

2017 was an important transition year for NWO's AES domain. We implemented major organisational changes to facilitate the transition at NWO. We said goodbye to Technology Foundation STW and continued with our work in NWO’s new AES domain. But it was still business as usual while we continued to work at AES behind the scenes on harmonising the other new NWO units.

Transition from STW to AES

NWO’s Applied and Engineering Sciences (AES) domain saw the light of day in 2017. AES is continuing the work of Technology Foundation STW, which focused on forging and guiding partnerships between researchers, companies and social organisations. In doing so, STW always used a flexible and unifying working method, and AES is continuing in this vein.

Now that we have been active for more than a year, we can safely say that the STW’s best practices are also working well in NWO’s new organisational structure. At the same time, we are utilising the power of partnership in an NWO-wide context. Thanks to the merger with other NWO units, we can collaborate more effectively with other disciplines, and this is ultimately helping us to serve the (interdisciplinary) sciences better.

Excellent assessment for STW

We can look back with pride on the work carried out by STW. Last year, an investigative committee that mapped out the results of STW’s policy over the past few years came to the same conclusion. By working efficiently and effectively, STW has served the technical sciences in the Netherlands very well. In addition, all the parties involved in STW are very positive about the way the foundation has defined its role for the top sectors.

The investigation into STW was carried out by an independent evaluation committee and commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

New and familiar funding instruments

All the funding instruments that were used successfully by STW were transferred to NWO Domain AES. That enabled us to launch six new Perspective programmes in 2017. We also started four new Partnerships, in collaboration with Rijk Zwaan and Nutricia, among others.

In the Open Technology Programme (STW’s very first funding instrument), we again saw a surprising number of innovative proposals. The same applied to all other funding instruments that we use, both new and familiar. We are therefore delighted that scientists and the business sector have entrusted us with the supervision of their research ideas and requirements.

Industrial Doctorates

One eye-catching newcomer in NWO’s range of funding instruments is the Industrial Doctorates programme. In that programme, researchers can conduct doctoral research at both a knowledge institute and a company. We expect that those doctoral studies will give rise to intensive partnerships that will further strengthen the talent of the researchers in question. They will also give rise to new opportunities for the application of scientific knowledge

Approach to call overload and increase in OTP budget

NWO has noticed that the competition for funding research proposals is increasing all the time. This is a problem for both researchers and research funding bodies inside and outside the Netherlands. Due to the lack of sufficient resources, we are sometimes compelled to reject high-quality research proposals. To resolve this problem, NWO has consulted Dutch scientists, knowledge institutes and international sister organisations about their experiences. We did that, amongst other things, during a special working conference on application pressure on 29 and 30 June 2017. The most promising ideas to reduce the application pressure were then worked out in detail and in the autumn led to measures by NWO to limit the application pressure.

In 2017, AES was able to limit the call overload with the Open Technology programme. That was made possible by an extra investment of 5.2 million euros in the programme, which was allocated by NWO’s Executive Board.

Innovation festival TEKNOWLOGY 2017

In 2017, we launched the annual TEKNOWLOGY innovation festival. With this event, we have created a meeting place for innovators in the Netherlands that celebrates the symbiosis between knowledge, technology and innovation. It was an exciting first edition that is definitely worth repeating. The next edition will be held on 8 November 2018.

Stevin Prize

During TEKNOWLOGY, we awarded the Simon Stevin Master Prize for the last time. This is the biggest Dutch prize for technical-scientific research. In 2018, NWO will continue to encourage top players to achieve even more success in the research directions that they have taken. It will do so by awarding the Stevin prize, an award for researchers that are particularly successful in the field of knowledge utilisation for society. The prize is valued at 2.5 million euros.

Four Vici grants for AES

There was also good news about another great personal grant from NWO: the Vici grant. In 2017, AES awarded four Vici grants of 1.5 million euros each for calls from the technical sciences. We will be able to award the same number in 2018.

The assessment method for new Vici calls has changed since last year. The entire assessment procedure, including the interviews, has now been incorporated into the relevant NWO domain. That means that AES now conducts the entire assessment procedure for Vici calls in the technical sciences.

New members make AES Board complete

In 2017, the AES Board welcomed Dr. René Penning de Vries as a new Board member. Penning de Vries adds important expertise to the AES Board – amongst other things, in the field of ICT and digitisation.

Prof. Dr. Wiro Niessen and ir. Karin Sluis then joined the AES Board in 2018. Niessen has a large network and possesses the necessary managerial experience in the medical/technical work field. Sluis brings important knowledge to the Board in the field of infrastructure, civil engineering, mobility and the built environment.

The Board is now at full strength and can draw on a broad range of technical expertise and a very valuable network in the disciplines served by AES.

550 million euros for research in top sectors

In 2017, we announced that in the next two years NWO will contribute 550 million euros to high-quality scientific research in the top sectors. 272 million euros of NWO’s contribution will be spent on research for which companies will also provide significant funding: public-private partnership.

One important new component of NWO’s activities for 2018-2019 is the “Crossover call”, for which total budget of 40 million euros is available. With the Crossover call, NWO is funding research in public-private partnership that focuses on social challenges, where the research themes are linked to several top sectors.

New Grant Rules

One concrete result of the NWO transition is that we have made it more transparent for researchers to apply for funding. To do this, we have created new Grant Rules from which all of NWO, including NWO Domain AES, can grant subsidies. The NWO Grant Rules is a document specifying all the conditions and obligations that apply when NWO grants subsidies.

One great advantage of the Grant Rules is that it is now possible to appoint user committees for all NWO domains. This is a familiar and successful instrument that NWO's AES domain can use to keep public-private partners closely aligned with the projects.

The Grant Rules replace the General Conditions that AES worked with previously. The new rules will not change the working method and procedures of NWO’s AES domain. Only the location where they are formally described has changed: they are no longer in the General conditions but in the Grant Rules.

Read more on the developments within NWO in the annual report on 2017 which has been published today (in Dutch only).

Source: NWO