Dijkgraaf answers doubts about starter grants

Will these new scholarships for scientists really bring peace and space to universities? The House of Representatives is in doubt, but the minister remains confident.

The good news is that there will still be more money for science: Minister Dijkgraaf can hand out hundreds of millions a year. And 300 million euros a year will soon go to ‘working capital’ for scientists. These are start-ups and incentive scholarships that the universities themselves must distribute. It should make researchers less dependent on research-funded NWO.

But the House of Representatives is still in doubt about that, which emerged during a debate with the minister about his plans. Will there be more permanent contracts thanks to these exchanges? Should researchers compete less with each other? Or will the money go to people, “who are already well anyway”, GroenLinks would know, for example.

Half of the 300 million is for start-up grants of 300 thousand euros, intended for university lecturers who receive a permanent contract. The other half goes to ‘promotion scholarships’ for teachers, associate professors and professors; it can also be smaller quantities.

Will it help?

It sounds good, but will it help? The association of relatively young top researchers (De Jonge Akademie) is concerned. “Universities, institutes or faculties must find a way to allocate the extra resources,” the members write. “In that case, a new competition with associated work pressure is inevitable.”

Chairman Marcel Levi of the research foundation NWO also warned about this. “The danger is that a whole new bureaucratic cycle is emerging within the universities, while we already have a fantastic talent system: the NWO Veni, Vidi and Vici grants.”

The protest movement WOinActie is even more skeptical and simply proposes to divide the money between all scientists, which amounts to about 25,000 euros a year per scientist. People can then look together at what they can do about it, for example, hiring a new university lecturer with the four of them.

Even OCW officials comment that there may be Lake there will be temporary contracts in science if university lecturers start using the start-up grants to hire lecturers without research time. The Minister could prevent this by setting good conditions.

Critical

Minister Dijkgraaf is aware of the objections and thinks it is good that everyone is looking critically at him. “We will see if it really does matter about the problem of temporary contracts,” he told Parliament. But he will not make firm appointments.

At the same time, he calls the many temporary jobs at the university a “serious problem”. According to him, this is partly related to the imbalance between funding for research and education, which he is therefore trying to rectify.

These scholarships are not the only means of securing permanent contracts, he added. Additional money will also be made available for sector plans with national agreements per. discipline of education and research. That budget will go from 70 to 200 million euros, and permanent employment will be part of it.

According to the Minister, the sector plans are a “tried and tested instrument” and the stock exchanges can also contribute to fixed contracts and to reducing work pressure. The Ministry will monitor it in any case.

Learning process

Will it all really succeed? “I can promise that I will continue to use the scientific method in my work,” Dijkgraaf said. He goes on to see what works and what does not. He also sees it as a learning process, he said.

The House of Representatives was sympathetic, and it does not appear that Dijkgraaf’s plans will meet with much political opposition, but he will still elaborate on them, and there will no doubt be more debates. Then it must become clear how strict the political supervision is.

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