News - September 15, 2011

Verhagen: 'Universities need to specialize'

Verhagen, the minister of Agriculture, said at the opening of the academic year in Wageningen that Wageningen University's collaboration with business sets an example for the entire Dutch knowledge sector. Resource spoke to him afterwards. 'There is no distrust about working with companies here.'

The Deputy Prime Minister meets a Livestock Farmers delegation.
Concentrating innovative energy in priority sectors - why is that the key to success?
'The Netherlands has low private sector R&D expenditure compared with neighbouring countries. A lot of knowledge is not being used even though we give lots of grants to bolster the knowledge economy. Business people complain about the bureaucracy of research grant applications. That's why I have said to employers: you are always commenting on innovation policy in the Netherlands, now you tell us what to do. We are going to be allocating innovation funds differently by putting companies and knowledge institutions in charge together.'

You often hold Wageningen up as an 'example'. In what way?
'Here in Wageningen they have the right mindset for collaboration. There is no distrust about working with the private sector in Wageningen as there is in some other universities. But I am seeing that change now with the high-tech campus in Eindhoven and all those start-ups in YesDelft.'

You say universities need to specialize more. Who will organize that?
'You will hear more about that on Budget Day. I am mainly asking a question: do we need courses in law, psychology or business administration in every town? It is a rhetorical question. We don't have three agricultural faculties in Groningen, Wageningen and Rotterdam. Wageningen is competing with knowledge centres in other countries. Specialization will allow you to attract the best researchers and students.'

Will the government enforce that?
'We are already seeing the universities in Rotterdam, Leiden and Delft wanting to collaborate. Logically the next question is: shouldn't you specialize? We are also seeing the technical universities choosing to coordinate their research rather than competing. In addition, I am expecting the priority sectors to guide this specialization process. If businesses are spending more money on research, they will prefer to invest in universities that excel in a particular field.'