"Even if more money comes in, there will still be pressure on researchers."

“Even if more money comes in, there will still be pressure on researchers.”

These are turbulent times for the NWO science financier: There is a lot of pressure to get extra money for science at the top of the formation agenda, the institute has been “ up and running ” again after the computer hack and then there’s a change in guard: biophysicist Stan Gillin will retire after four Years and a half, Marcel Levy – who has headed seven hospitals in London in recent years – takes over as chairman of the board. Norwegian Refugee Council The duo talks via Zoom, as Levi is still in London.

Levy says he’s looking forward to it. “I’ve now worked in hospitals for more than 35 years and in hospital management for more than 15 years. I could keep doing that until I retire, but we still have more than ten years left. So I thought, maybe it’s time to think about what I can do as well. Science makes my heart.” It beats faster. I’ve always kept an active tick. “

Don’t you miss the excitement? You are now standing and the corona has reached your ankles in warm water …

Levy: “I think emotions in science can be very loud. Maybe life is not at stake now, but I don’t think I will get bored. I will continue to do research and care for patients one day a week.”

One of the tasks that awaits him is to make more peace in Dutch science: the workload is very high, and the probability of getting a permanent appointment or getting a scholarship is very low. The system “has gone crazy,” said Ennicki Sluiter, chair of the board of the National Nuclear Energy Agency. Norwegian Refugee Council. Next Tuesday there will be a National Day of Action to persuade the new cabinet to invest more money in universities. The research by PricewaterhouseCoopers is correct: the consulting firm recently concluded that an additional € 1 billion is already needed every year.

The call for this billion has been ringing for years. How can universities be so bad at putting pressure on?

Levi: Frankly, I don’t have an answer. What happened in the past is that maybe there was a good case for getting more money, but then one sector of science said: The money should go to us. No, the other shouted: To us. Then the money finally goes to the defense. You have to convince politicians and policymakers the same vision. I think the time has finally come: Stan manages to bring all the parties together with the Knowledge Alliance. ”This is a partnership between universities and organizations like NWO, KNAW, Universities of Applied Sciences Association, TNO, and economic partners like VNO-NCW and MKB-Nederland.

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Will a billion really come?

Levi: Of course! There are advice from economic advisers and senior officials, and I think anyone who has studied it a little is convinced that momentum is needed. Not to make universities happier, but to make Holland better. “

Is the NWO Still the Right Body to Distribute Research Funding? Wouldn’t it be better to go directly to universities?

Jilin: “The problem is that there is not enough money in all areas. You cannot solve this problem by giving NWO money to government funding.” [de universiteiten, red.] Dam. NWO is the party who can objectively and expertly select the best research proposals. International research shows that the output for projects funded by NWO-like organizations is higher than when grants are applied directly through universities. Additionally, we also finance critical infrastructure for the entire country. If there was no NWO, we wouldn’t have telescopes that astronomers could use to take measurements. “

I often see basic research as contradicting applied research

Stan Gillin The outgoing NWO chair

Can’t universities join forces for this?

Levy: “Let me take this debate a step further: Why do we do research at all? Why is government contributing to it? Answer: Science is able to provide answers to social problems. This means that you have to listen carefully to the social problems that need to be solved and that you need to.” Tools to direct it. That’s what the NWO is doing. “

What does this logic mean for free basic search?

Jilin: “I often see that basic research conflicts with applied research. As if they are competing with each other. While we need both. Take climate research, for example: The industry is now operating with the knowledge we have gained from basic research in recent years. We guarantee that within ten years we will have new knowledge with which the industry can take the next step. If you do not do one, the other is pointless. “

What else is on the wish-list for the new education minister?

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Levi: It would be great to invest more in young researchers in the coming years so that they can stay in the Netherlands and not have to move to the United States or Asia to pursue science. We have an enormous amount of talent, but we often can’t keep it for science. Young people can be postdoctoral researchers for a while, then often dead ends. In doing so, we cut ourselves short. Keeping this group active in science is a priority, and give them more ideas for longer projects. “

Are these young people no longer holding permanent positions at the university?

Levi: In the end, you first need to know if this is the profession you are aspiring to. For this you have to provide them with security so that they can be funded on a project basis for a number of years. This shouldn’t be a lottery. If this is successful in all respects, then I totally agree with you, permanent appointment to Knowledge Foundation is the best. “

And the Assyriologist who studies pottery tablets, is there a place for him or her as well?

Levi: Of course! It is very easy to think that you should only use a beta or hard medicine. Ineke Sluiter, Chair of KNAW, knows how her research on Greek antiquity connects to immigration issues that exist today. This is not the main focus of her research, but it takes the debate to a higher level. I firmly believe in those clay tablets! “

We often receive proposals on several very similar rounds

Stan Gillin The outgoing NWO chair

Is it necessary for science to always have parentheses, or is there also room for science for the sake of science?

Levi: I think there is a lot of room for science for the sake of science. But if you ask the government for money, it is not wrong to ask a counter-question: Imagine where this research might lead. I’m fine with a biologist who wants to know why a centipede has a thousand legs – that’s just not true. But there is nothing wrong with asking a biologist where his knowledge at a given moment might lead to – for example, better robots.

If more money could be distributed in the future, would that also lead to fewer complaints from researchers about the NWO’s low prize percentage? On some rounds, it barely exceeds 5 percent.

Jilin: “The problem is that application pressure does not decrease if there is more money to distribute. Example: In the context of the National Research Agenda, an additional 130 million have been added to the research, and the number of proposals submitted has not been higher than ever. The Van Rijn Committee, set up by the Minister to issue advice on education financing, recommended transferring money from the NWO to universities. At that time, sixty million NWO’s went to universities – and what did we see? New researchers, who were assigned to universities, began to apply en masse to NWO “.

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Do you suggest submitting applications very easily?

Guilin: “Yes, because the scientists are responsible for that. Often times we get proposals in several rounds that are very similar.”

Levy: Several applications that were rejected receive excellent reviews from foreign referees. So it’s not like it’s all a core. What you can think of is whether or not you should allow people to write larger programs that they present with others. Then they have to put in a harder effort once, but there is also a high chance of success to get approval for this research. More efficient. In America, where almost everything is financed through indirect financing, it is exactly this way. “

I am glad that researchers have feelings for NWO

Marcel Levy The future NWO chair

Jilin: “If you increase access to funding, researchers will write fewer applications. We have entered into agreements with universities to ensure that there are fewer applications, with confidence that the proportion of grants will increase after that.”

So universities should first discuss their role to make a proposal?

Jilin: “Well, I will not transfer this mission from NWO to universities. But make agreements with universities when it comes to large and wide-ranging proposals, in which the proposals will be submitted and will not be presented, everyone has an interest in that.”

Many scholars have a love and hate relationship with NWO. Happy when their proposals are granted, and angry when they receive no response. How will you make love grow?

Levi: “I am delighted that the researchers have feelings for NWO. We will do our best to make it as easy as possible for them. Quick implementations, quick answers. Then the love will definitely remain, and the anger will not completely disappear, but NWO is anyway an organization that is taken very seriously.” .

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