Het is niet of nauwelijks gelukt het aantal aanvragen bij NWO te beperken. De onderzoeksfinancier gaat met de universiteiten in gesprek.
Less than 20 percent of the applications to NWO are honoured. (Photo: Dalia Madi)

The efforts to limit the number of applications submitted to NWO have had little success. The research funding organisation is going to discuss this with the universities.

Lees in het Nederlands

To hold their own in the Dutch scientific community, researchers can scarcely do without NWO. They have to obtain money one way or another, or their career will be in jeopardy.

Consequently, there is great demand for NWO scholarships, thereby wasting a lot of energy. After all, a lot of time and effort is needed to submit – and assess – an application, and most researchers miss out.

Universities were supposed to carry out their own ‘preselection’, but nothing has come of it, reports Resource, the university newspaper of Wageningen. NWO confirms the report.

Veni, Vidi, Vici
In particular, the Talent Programme (including the prestigious Veni, Vidi and Vici grants) is struggling with a large number of applicants. In 2017 2,335 researchers applied for a talent grant; 403 of them were successful: 17.3 percent. In 2020 there were more than three hundred extra applications (2,668) and seventy extra awards – a success rate of 17.7 percent.

‘Lack of money is one of the principal causes of the large number of applications’

In 2017 NWO asked the universities for help in reducing the influx. They were supposed to make a preselection to prevent projects that stand no chance from landing on NWO’s desk. But so far the difference has been negligible.

At that time, NWO set aside drastic plans such as drawing lots among suitable researchers, and new systems for getting scientists to divide up the research funding between them without the intervention of countless evaluation committees and experts.

Suspension
Subsequently, even more plans were devised, such as suspending weak applicants: they would then be barred from submitting an application for one or two years. Another idea was that universities could operate a quota system: a maximum number of applications. That is already happening with certain grants.

According to NWO, a lack of money in the world of science is one of the principal causes of the large number of applications. This makes researchers highly dependent on NWO grants. Universities feel they ought to get 1.1 billion euros a year extra.

Talks
Nevertheless, in the months ahead NWO will hold talks with each university about the number of applications and fundings. The hope is that the universities will then be more aware of the role they themselves play in the problem. NWO is willing to announce the figures per university only after those talks.

HOP, Bas Belleman
Translation: Taalcentrum-VU