Nieuws - 13 januari 2011

New Year's resolutions from 2006

Soon, the Strategic Plan for 2011-2014 will be printed. What has come out of the goals in the Strategic Plan for 2007-2010? January 2010 is a good time to recall the resolutions made in 2006.

More students
You've probably heard this before, but Wageningen UR does deserve a well-done sticker in its books for the growth in student intake. And a big kiss to go with it. The number of university students was 1100 in 2006, and the resolution then was to bring this number to 1200 in 2010. But it went up to 2066. A success never before achieved.
Success, of course, owes itself to many factors. We name three of them. A study has shown that the Wageningen themes are in demand: nutrition and health has gained popularity; climate and biobased studies have suddenly become hot. The student recruitment campaign stood out from those of other universities: informative leaflets to invoke one's interests instead of thick brochures filled mostly with laughing students. In addition, the crisis has caused more people to take up studies. And of course, the Forum building in Wageningen exerted a powerful charm on students.

Scientific recognition
There used to be people who openly questioned the ability of a university so close to applied themes as to be able to excel in fundamental research. Such voices are no longer heard. There were ambitions in the strategic plan to have 20 publications in top journals such as Nature and Science (ended up with 30, bingo!), 20 Veni, Vidi or Vici-awards (29!), and one Spinoza laureate (ended up with three: Marcel Dicke, Willem de Vos and Marten Scheffer).
While the European ERC grants of 2.5 million euros - just as attractive as the Spinoza sums - were not on the to-do list, four ERC scholarships were bagged by Wageningen: Willem de Vos, Martien Cohen Stuart, and Martin Scheffer.
On the other hand, some talents left, such as entomologist Bart Knols who started his own company.

Cost-cutting LNV
After the the Strategic Plan was published, DLO had an additional task: to tackle the consequences of cost cuttings at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV). LNV cut down on 15 million euros - equivalent to 150 jobs - at the DLO institutes. A reorganization was fortunately avoided as DLO staff managed to obtain new funding from provincial governments, the EU and companies.
Alterra was affected the most as this nature institute was closely tied to LNV. But Alterra was able to take the blow well. Although turnover remained the same, the share of income from outside the ministry rose from thirty to fifty percent in three years. Alterra is now doing more research with natural gas subsidies and for the EU, the provinces and small associations and foundations. But Alterra should not rest too soon on its laurels: the government has stopped giving natural gas benefits to research, and provinces are reducing their expenditure on nature research.

Not achieved / status quo:

More VHL students for the university
The percentage of VHL graduates moving on to Wageningen University was to rise from 9 to 12 percent. The absolute numbers did rise, but this percentage had gone down slightly instead...
Transfer programmes would be set up for students in universities of applied sciences to drill them for the university's Master's programmes. That turned out to be too tall an order. The contiguous programmes differ greatly for each MSc study and there were so few students that too much work had been involved relatively.
As a result, a customized approach is now taken. A VHL student with university aspirations will be contacted by the student supervisors of the applied sciences university and the university one year before the date of graduation. The student can then organize the fourth year to blend with the MSc.

Selling knowledge
Knowledge valorization has not met with much success. In any case, not in the way stated in the Strategic Plan. The income from sales of patents, permits and new spin-out companies should have brought in 3 million euros per year by now. But only about a million came in.
The Wageningen Business Generator had to market such knowledge, but it became evident at an early stage that WBG had difficulty cashing in on the market value of such new knowledge. WBG was disbanded in 2008 and knowledge valorization has since been in the hands of the sciences groups again - close to the workfloor.
Expectations have also been re-adjusted. Ten years ago, it was thought that universities could make big profits from patents and new companies. But even the model country the United States has shown that such incomes have their limits.
A much more effective way is still knowledge valorization via the companies which you have kept in touch with. After all, why beat around the bush on the slow and uncertain path of patents and spin-outs if there is direct access? Wageningen UR does indeed have a strong network of business contacts.

More woman professors
The glass ceiling had to give way too in Wageningen. The number of woman professors was 8 percent and this had to rise to 11 percent (normal professors, excluding professors by special appointment). But the counter is now at 8.7 percent. The glass ceiling has at most received just a few hairline cracks.
Has something been done about this? Yes, a woman will always be present on the appointment committee from now on; if a candidate works less for a period because of child-baring, her publication score will be adjusted according to the number of years worked. The number of woman professors holding a Personal Chair has, however, increased considerably (they may supervise PhD students but do not yet have their own chair group) to 28 percent. This may herald in a definitive breakthrough.

English as official language
The intention In 2006 was that English would be the formal medium of communication 'at this very moment'. But this faced opposition from the joint representative advisory bodies. All official documents are now translated, but this is expensive and international employees only get them later. Administrator Aalt Dijkhuizen has announced that he will raise the issue again in the years to come. The switch to English therefore remains on the to-do list.