More emphasis on education and impact in the future

For a career in science, you don’t need to concentrate exclusively on research any more in the future. Being able to teach well and conducting meaningful research are also important, knowledge institutions and research financers believe. They published a position paper about it today. TU/e rector Frank Baaijens and his colleague Rianne Letschert from Maastricht contributed to the paper on behalf of the VSNU.

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Scientist can excel in many areas, but when it comes to grant applications and doctoral programs, only one thing counts: their research accomplishments. In fact, spending too much time on education could get in the way of an academic career.

It’s time for a new approach to recognizing and rewarding academics, knowledge institutions and research financers decided a year ago already. The big question, of course, is: but how? After consultations with scientists, unions and other involved parties, they presented a number of proposals today.


The dominance of research accomplishments is increasingly ‘at odds with reality,’ the universities, UMC’s, science academy KNAW and science financers NWO and ZonMw say in a joint statement. The checklists with the number of publications, citations, etcetera, should be discarded because they lead to a high work pressure, and disturb the balance between scientific fields.

Other talents should also be included in the evaluation. Think of education, impact of research, leadership and (for university medical centers) patient care. ‘However, it is unrealistic as well as unnecessary for each academic to excel in each of the key areas’ it says in the position paper.

It’s possible for researchers to create a profile within one or several of these specializations. They can also decide to adapt their profile in the course their careers. Education and research will however remain the two flagships. ‘It is required that academics have enough competences in at least these two key areas.’

Crossing boundaries

Academics will then make a contribution, based on their own expertise and competences, to the team, department, or the consortium of researchers. Because ‘team science’ will have to encourage cooperation between several different disciplines. ‘This does not mean that there is no room left for monodisciplinary studies and careers. On the contrary: a strong disciplinary basis is a condition for meaningful translation across the boundaries of disciplines.’

Rector Frank Baaijens says that the departments at TU/e will investigate how best to implement these proposals at each individual department. “Because each department will have to find its own approach. The other universities will go about it in the same way,” Baaijens says. According to the rector, all sub plans presented by the universities will eventually be combined to ultimately produce a national framework in 2020.

The assessment of research proposals will see a greater emphasis on quality, content, creativity, and contribution to society. Open science is bound up inextricably with the new system of recognition and rewarding, according to the organizations.

Baaijens: “What should also make sure that a professor who spent four years acting as program director will not be punished after that period by an advisory committee when applying for a grant because he or she hardly contributed any output in the field of research. We see that this often makes people reluctant to opt for a position as program director.”

Culture change

Fine plans, but how do you put them into practice? The VSNU will present a national framework next year for a new approach to recognizing and rewarding academics, which will find its way into the job classification and the collective agreement. A ‘recalibrated university job classification system’ will have to enter into force as of 2021. The knowledge institutions will create awareness of the new approach to recognizing and rewarding academics through new committees, programs and courses.

The research financers will create an ‘array of funding instruments, with clearly differentiating criteria to take account of a more diverse group of researchers.’ They will debate the question of what ‘talent’ is and what exactly constitutes ‘good research’ with scientists. Grant assessment committees will be provided with training and instructions in order to speed up the desired ‘culture change’. More effort will also be made to ensure a better system for rewarding team science.

On Friday, November 15, the European University Association and the VSNU will organize a conference in which Baaijens will also participate. According to him, the Netherlands is leading the way in Europe to a great extent with this system for recognizing and rewarding academics, “but we need to get other countries to join in, because if we don’t, we’ll end up shooting ourselves in the foot despite our best behavior.”




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