Nieuws - 6 januari 2010

Dijkhuizen foresees a year full of uncertainty

Government is considering cuts in applied research. 'We need to convince others of the importance of Wageningen UR.'

Chairman of the Board Dijkhuizen addresses the crowd at the New Year drink
The Chairman of the Executive Board, Aalt Dijkhuizen, foresees a year full of uncertainty, as he made clear in his New Year speech last Monday in the Forum central hall. 'It is not clear what will happen to our ministry in the future. The Government may decide to slim down to six key ministries. Also, the economic importance of food and agriculture is often underestimated. What is more, there is a lot of debate about intensive livestock farming. The situation is not helped by the Q fever epidemic, where public health is being weighed up against economic interests.'
There seems to be increasing uncertainty surrounding the fixed funding of the DLO part of Wageningen UR. The Ministry of Agriculture cut DLO's budget by ten per cent this year, but Dijkhuizen foresees more cuts in 2011 and beyond.
For example, twenty civil service working groups are due to submit proposals for spending cuts in March, to be followed by a wide-ranging debate in the Dutch House of Representatives. One of those working groups is looking at the funding of major technological institutions such as TNO, RIVM (the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment) and Wageningen UR. That working group is holding a public hearing on Thursday 14 January. Executive Board member Tijs Breukink will be there speaking about the importance of applied research for food and agriculture.
Dijkhuizen said in his New Year speech that DLO would have to look at alternative sources of funding. 'We need to cultivate strong customer relations and show that research adds value, so should not be seen as an additional cost.'
Van Hall Larenstein will also need to get working. 'We need to make significant progress where the position and performance of VHL is concerned.  It will need to meet the same quality criteria as the rest of the organization.' Furthermore, this year will see the strategic plan for 2011-2014 being drawn up. That will not involve a change in direction. 'We will be continuing in the same general direction and there won't be any major changes in our approach.'
Dijkhuizen declared himself extremely pleased with the past year. 'Last year the burning question was whether Wageningen UR is recession proof. The answer is:  yes, we are (up to now).' Some of the success stories listed by the organization's boss: more research projects than ever before; a Spinoza prize for Marten Scheffer; interesting external funding schemes; an increase in the number of students at the university and VHL; top position in the Guide to Higher Education for the fifth time; extensive interest from VIPs such as Prime Minister Balkenende, a high-ranking delegation from Chili, Queen Beatrix and Princess Maxima.