Science - February 23, 2017

Hard-up institutes lobby for more cash

Albert Sikkema

Dutch applied research institutes, including Wageningen Research, are struggling due to the cuts in government spending. On Monday 20 February they organized a debate with politicians in The Hague. The message: we need more money to be able to go on doing relevant and innovative research.

<Eppo Bruins (ChristenUnie), Mei Li Vos (PvdA) en Salima Belhaj (D66) in debate, photo: TNO Pers>

The ‘TO2’ institutes – TNO, Deltares, Marin, ECN, NLR and Wageningen Research – all do applied research and they therefore see themselves as serving a key function in the Netherlands’ innovation policy. But the ministry of Economic Affairs has made severe cuts in the funding for these institutes in recent years. They therefore argued on 20 February that the next cabinet needs to invest more in applied research.

Politicians from various political parties covering the spectrum from left to right (SP, GroenLinks, PvdA, D66, ChristenUnie and VVD) were on stage at café Dudok to explain how their party intended investing in research. There were policy makers and company R&D executives in the room as well as the research managers from the TO2 institutes. Those TO2 managers had all seen the evaluation report on the TO2 institutes that the minister will be sending to the Dutch parliament on Thursday. It concludes that the research institutes do high-quality work and have a big impact on society with their research on topics such as water, food, energy, environment and shipping. But the authors of the report say the cutbacks mean that they now often lack the basic knowledge and infrastructure to carry on developing innovative products and systems. WUR had already drawn this conclusion in its ‘Thin Ice’ analysis.

The politicians had not yet read the report and were therefore unable to comment on it, but they did quote from their parties’ manifestos. The SP (Socialist Party) wants more focus on fundamental research, but no sums of money were mentioned. ChristenUnie (a Christian party) wants 300 million euros more for applied research, D66 (a centrist liberal party) wants to invest one billion more in research, PvdA (Labour Party) thinks 200 million extra is enough and GroenLinks (Green Left) would spend 400 million more. They all said these sums were subject to conditions and caveats. For example, many parties feel multinationals currently benefit too much from the top sector policy. Consequently many parties would like to reform that policy to enable more research on social issues such as climate change. Only the right-wing VVD thinks things are fine as they are. The CDA (Christian democrat party) and the far-right PVV did not take part in the debate.