Science - May 3, 2012

Has Wageningen become less innovative?

Wageningen University is no longer as innovative as it was ten years ago. So says the Rathenau Institute, based on an overview in which it places the performances of Dutch universities in the last decade side-by-side.

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The overview from the Rathenau Institute shows that while academic production (citation scores) is satisfactory, acquisition success has slipped in comparison with other universities. In particular, with regard to the 'second funding source' (research funding through the NWO and KNAW), Wageningen has plummeted from being the leader in 2002 to somewhere a little below the average. Concerning the 'third funding source' (contract research for companies and government organizations), Wageningen continues to do well. Therefore, the Rathenau Institute concludes that Wageningen has gone from an innovative to a socially oriented university.  
Less subsidy
The report goes on to disclose where the rub lies: for the sake of 'fresh stimulus', NWO awards so-called veni-, vidi- and vici-subsidies each year respectively to young, experienced and very experienced researchers. Wageningen has clearly done badly in this subsidy carousel from 2001 to 2010, in comparison with other universities.  
The conclusion that there is room for improvement in this area therefore comes as no surprise, says Ab Groen, programme director in research and education. 'That we could have done better with NWO has long been said. Therefore, we started giving more guidance a few years ago to researchers who apply for NWO funds. This has resulted in very direct gains, but these have obviously not been reflected in the Rathenau figures yet.'
Another factor is because food science, one of Wageningen's major themes, does not have a clear-cut classification. Groen: 'While the health theme is recognized by NWO, it covers mainly medical matters. NWO should review its criteria once in a while as food science has in the meantime become a very important research discipline.'
Grown
Groen has several other comments about the basis for the Rathenau report. It does not include European subsidies such as the ERC grants under research funding. 'These involve big sums of money which we have succeeded in acquiring in the last few years.'
As such, Groen has a bone to pick with the report's conclusion that Wageningen has possibly become less 'scientific' in the last decade. 'I think that we have in fact grown stronger academically, a situation for which we are getting more recognition within the international academic community. At the same time, our standing within the society has also grown and we continue to be innovative at the international level.' Proof of this can also be found in the Rathenau report: Wageningen produced more than the average number of publications from 2007 to 2010 and had the highest percentage (54 percent) of publications with an international cooperation, a category with a higher impact on the average.
The entire report (in Dutch) can be viewed at  http://www.rathenau.nl/publicaties/feiten-en-cijfers-de-nederlandse-universiteiten.html

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