Science - January 20, 2005

A&F goes to university

The research institute Agrotechnology and Food Innovations is to be dismantled and most of it placed under the university. A smaller part will go to an as yet unknown third party, the Executive Board announced on Tuesday, 18 January. The restructuring comes in response to mounting losses that the institute faces.

The losses increased dramatically over the last year as the institute won fewer assignments from the private sector. In comparison with the other Wageningen UR institutes, A&F is much more dependent on the private sector as it receives less funding from the ministry of agriculture.

The directors of the Sciences Group and the executive board have said they want to concentrate on ‘pre-competitive’ research, the more fundamental research that does not result in competitive advantages for companies. For this reason the directors intend to link the jobs that remain to the university. For thirty people who are currently engaged in competitive research, talks are currently being held with a ‘third party’, but until more is known no names are being mentioned. The executive board is discussing intensive cooperation for the future.

Of the three hundred jobs in the institute at present, eighty will disappear, most from the business units Food Quality and Agrisystems & Environment. One hundred and fifty full time jobs will be brought under the sub-department of Agrotechnology and Nutrition at the university. Forty jobs will go to other research institutes and the remaining thirty to the unknown third party. Most of the business units Food Quality, Quality in Chains and Biobased Products will fall under the university. Agrisystems & Environment, the old institute IMAG, will be divided over the Plant and Animal Sciences Groups.

According to chairman of the executive board, Dr Aalt Dijkhuizen, the market in which A&F is trying to make its money is saturated. Within the Netherlands alone there are not only universities, but also another three research institutes active in the same market. The big food companies also have their own large research laboratories. ‘There is not enough room for so many players. We have asked ourselves what we are good at. That is pre-competitive research, because our collaboration with the university gives us the edge.’

The part of A&F left over should concentrate on the big players, and on public-private partnerships. The government-led innovation platform has declared ‘Food and Flowers’ as one of the key areas in the Dutch economy, and one of the fields within this area is Food & Nutrition. This is where Wageningen UR can become the centre.’

No formal decisions have yet been taken. The proposals announced by the executive board still have to be approved by the supervisory board, which will meet on 27 January. The plan for A&F is part of the recovery plan for all the research institutes, Focus 2006. Big reductions in overhead costs form the other part of the plan. The supervisory board also has to authorise the reservation of millions to cover the costs of the recovery plan. / KV

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