News - February 10, 2011

Wageningen in the 'top' sectors

Astrid Smit

Wageningen UR is a shining example of the cabinet's policies on knowledge and innovation, says Minister Verhagen. But climate and ecology fall outside the 'top sectors'.

Wageningen is in a very strong position in the Dutch knowledge economy and was showered with compliments by Minister Verhagen of the ministry of Education, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) during his guest lecture in Wageningen on 31 January. He called the clustering of agricultural research, business and policy a shining example of the cabinet's new knowledge and innovation policy.
Wageningen's strong position is mentioned in the memo on business that Verhagen sent to the lower house on 4 February. In this letter he mentioned nine 'top sectors' which can compete for grants worth 1.5 billion euros per year. Among the top sectors are agriculture, horticulture, water and energy - all sectors in which the university and institutes play a role, often a key one. To be eligible for grants in all of these fields, clusters of companies and knowledge institutes should submit proposals before the summer. Each sector will be allocated an adviser from the business world.
One and a half billion is a lot of money. Sceptics call it robbing Peter to pay Paul. After all, the cabinet recently closed down the funding source for top institutes, FES, which saved it 500 million. And it was precisely in these top institutes, such as water institute Wetsus, that researchers and business people were already collaborating closely. The cabinet also intends half of the NWO budget, 300 million, to go to these top fields. Additionally, higher education is going to have its funding cut by several hundred million. This cabinet clusters research grants and then makes choices. This strategy creates winners and losers. Will Wageningen be among the winners? 'The score is now 2-0 to us, but the match isn't over yet', says Aalt Dijkhuizen. What it will take is very good proposals in which business partners are involved from the start. And which make it very clear - clearer than in the past - what the proposal will deliver in terms of innovation and job creation.
There are losers too. Climate and ecology are not among the top sectors. Bad news for Alterra, but not really a surprise. Climate and biodiversity are major global problems but there are no large international companies that will be creating new jobs with their knowledge.