News - March 23, 2017

Institutes constrained by budget cuts

Albert Sikkema

Due to years of government budget cuts, Wageningen Research no longer has a sound knowledge base in all its research fields. This conclusion was drawn by the Schaaf committee in an evaluation report for the ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ).

<photo: Shutterstock>

The Schaaf committee evaluated all the applied research institutes – TO2 organizations – in the Netherlands. Besides DLO, these include TNO, Deltares and Marin. The minister of Economic Affairs, Kamp, presented the evaluation report to the lower house of parliament on 8 March without commenting on its contents. 

The quality of the research at the TO2 institutions is good to very good, and is highly regarded by stakeholders, says the Schaaf committee. The research is rated good to very good for impact too. The only cause for concern is the vitality of the institutions. Due to the systematic reduction in government funding, the scope for innovative research is diminishing across the board. The TO2 research institutes have too little scope for addressing societal issues for which the business world provides no direct funding. Nor do they get a clear mandate for innovative research related to societal challenges such as animal welfare and environmental policy. This is leading to a gradual loss of knowledge in the institutes, notes the Schaaf committee.

The budget is shrinking at Wageningen Research too, reports the committee. In 2012 Wageningen institutes were still getting 343 million euros from the government; in 2015 that was 314 million. Staff numbers went down by the equivalent of 274 fulltime jobs (12 percent). In this situation the institutes need to specialize further, advises the committee,  and to focus on a few core competencies with which they can become or remain world leaders. Wageningen Research should identify these core research fields in consultation with the government. The WUR model, in which the institutes and the university collaborate, could serve as an example.

The committee has some advice specifically for Wageningen Research, which it thinks could valorize more of its knowledge through spinoffs, startups and new business models. β€˜It is essential to make the transition to a more businesslike and market-oriented organization.’ The committee sees big differences between the institutions in this respect. The executive board needs to ensure more uniformity and make clearer which research no longer has priority.