Wageningen UR has enough money and is attracting more and more students. Aalt Dijkhuizen looks back on 2008 with satisfaction, but is wary of the recession. And the knowledge units AFSG (nutrition research) and ASG (animal research) are in the red – they’ll have to make cuts.
‘We’ve got more students, we were first again in the Higher Education Guide’s rankings, and we did good, relevant research. One of the indicators of this is the Spinoza Prize that was won by microbiologist Willem de Vos.
What didn’t go so well?
‘DLO is doing well as a whole, but the knowledge units AFSF and ASG are in the red, even in their budgets for 2009. We have said that this is only allowed if there are plans for improvement. For AFSG, the biggest problem is the Restaurant of the Future, that is clear. The Food division is in the red and faces stiff competition from the R&D departments of big companies such as DSM, Unilever and Friesland Campina. There must be a plan for improvements by February. In ASG, the loss-making Products division, which develops vaccines in Lelystad, is going to be given a makeover and sold off.
The other divisions, Infectious Diseases and Livestock, have expensive facilities (stalls and laboratories) that don’t always generate enough returns in terms of education and research. Director Martin Scholten is going to take a good look at this over the coming months. This won’t lead to large-scale reorganizations, but possibly to some partial ones.’
How did 2008 end?
‘We’re in a strong position. In DLO we reached the required return of 3.5 percent. The university is in the black too, and we’ve reduced our overhead costs and made successful real estate sales. VHL is just in the black. The budget has been approved without changes. In DLO we even expect an increase in returns. But there is more uncertainty in the air, so we have built in a bigger margin for uncertainty for the coming year.’
‘Exactly. At the New Year reception I will appeal to everyone to be alert for signs that the recession is affecting our institution. Late payments can be one warning sign, and loss of external contacts is another. We monitor this every week, but so far those signs are not there.’
At the end of December, NWO hands out the prestigious Vici scholarship, and for the third year running, no Vici has been awarded to Wageningen.
‘That’s a great pity. We are paying a lot of attention to this, with the help of people who have made it in the past. We are going to identify candidates in the research schools who might go on from Veni and Vidi grants to gain a Vici one. The target in the strategic plan is to attract twenty Veni, Vidi and Vici grants between 2007 and 2010. We’re halfway and we’ve got eighteen: eleven Venis and seven Vidis.’