The Rutte government will channel research and innovation capital to the top sectors of the Dutch economy. It will be guided by the kind of knowledge the private sector needs. This was announced by Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Education, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I), during a working visit to Wageningen UR on 31 January.
'In the area of research and innovation, the Netherlands is lagging behind other countries', Verhagen said during a short guest lecture in the Forum. 'But the solution is not to pump in more money. We have to select the strong sectors. I prefer to give money to a few top sectors, such as Wageningen, than to all sectors.' The top sectors he referred to in this context are agri-food, chemistry and water.
Verhagen is drawing up a new knowledge policy which he will present this autumn. This policy will entail financing mainly top Dutch institutes in which universities and companies work intensely together. These top institutes have, until recently, been receiving money from natural gas revenues (FES), which have since been abolished. The government intends to combine the separate funds with innovation capital. Verhagen will pool the knowledge and innovation budgets of the ministries of Education, EL&I and Infrastructure & Environment and focus on the top sectors. Funds from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) will also be associated with the top sectors. 'NWO wants to do this too', says Verhagen.
He and the minister of education are jointly responsible for NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), but as the minister of EL&I, he has the power of execution in innovation policy, as stated in the coalition agreement. This means that Verhagen will have the final say.
Should money be channelled to the top sectors, Wageningen UR has nothing to worry about. Verhagen praised the approach to innovation in Wageningen, in which research, the private sector and policy work together in a 'golden triangle'. Companies are being involved in research projects right from the start, while fundamental and applied researchers work together within one organization. The minister felt that Food Valley Wageningen is an 'ecosystem for entrepreneurs'. He placed his signature for a 3.3 million euro subsidy for StartLife, a new set-up to support budding Wageningen companies.
In addition, he has given his support to research into green raw materials in the Centre for Biobased Economy in Wageningen with a sum of five million euros. He had good news too for the Wageningen initiative, Food and Nutrition Delta, which will get one million euros this year. This innovation programme was neither here nor there when funding from the natural gas revenues ended after December, and no money was available while waiting for Verhagen's innovation plans in autumn. This issue has now been resolved with the extra million euros.
Verhagen called Wageningen the 'Dutch Harvard for Agriculture', one very capable of knowledge valorization, just like the science cluster in Eindhoven. He added that Wageningen UR can cooperate more with medium and small companies and other universities to achieve even more knowledge consolidation and 'open innovation'.