Money , Money, Money


I'm happy to say it: ABBA is ‘good business’. The Iron Curtain was torn down before I was born but I do like some tunes from the Cold War era. Last week saw the launch of ABBA’s new album, Voyage.

The Swedes' new work still makes great listening. Björn and Benny may be sporting longer beards and Agnetha and Anni-Frid's range may have lost a couple of high notes, but the group is still capable of producing musical hook after musical hook.

Their lyrics, by contrast, have less resonance for me than they used to. After all, way back in the 1970s ABBA were already writing about the three most important considerations - after the main business of science - in the life of an academic: Money, Money and Money. For me, that number is indelibly linked with having too little money. Somebody once used the track at a presentation about applying for NWO grant funding, as if it would make the chore more enjoyable.

Last week NWO announced it would be giving academics a talking-to about these grant applications. The numbers of applications for a Veni, Vidi or Vici grant have been 'too high', a problem that can, of course, be laid at the door of the academic community. Isn't it outrageous that a group of recalcitrant PhD holders should be trying to get aboard the lifeboat of permanent positions to escape the sinking ship of temporary contracts. If I'm ever asked to give a presentation on this topic, I'll be singing "Voulez-vous? Te-nure!”

Of course, NWO can only work with the financial resources it has. A Rabobank study published on Monday attempts to translate the economic effects of advanced-level scientific investments into euros. The benefit to the average Dutch citizen? Some 8000 euros over the long term. So our value can be expressed not only in all kinds of much-needed knowledge - climate change, anyone? - but also in genuine economic growth. Surely that will win over the cabinet.

Until then, we continue to be pestered with all kinds of vague initiatives. Last week the universities' federation VSNU said we need to do more in the way of ‘valorization’, get science producing all kinds of spin-offs, startups and new industries that make money directly. Once we start regarding science as something that needs a revenue model, rather than a domain in which to invest in order to accumulate knowledge for society, the game is over. No need to write all those long grant applications for NWO anymore, we'd do better to get on down to the Dragon’s Den studio on a Wednesday evening. Make an elevator pitch for jury members Ingrid van Engelshoven and Marcel Levi, and walk out with a line of research. So much more efficient!

It dismays me that I associate Money, Money, Money with NWO. I've changed my mind: if I ever make a presentation about NWO grant applications, I'll choose ‘Doekoe’ by Def Rhymz. Because everyone loves doekoe and in academia it certainly brings happiness.

* Dekoe means 'money' in Sranan Tongo, spoken in Suriname

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