At the annual ‘Akademiemiddag’, a yearly meeting of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in August, president prof. José van Dijck and vice-president prof. Wim van Saarloos presented their essay Wetenschap in Nederland: waar een klein land groot in is en moet blijven (‘Science in the Netherlands: what a little country can be big in and must stay big in’). Their conclusion: Dutch science is doing well internationally but to stay ahead the scientific set up needs strengthening.

Dutch science is booming. On global and European listings our scientists, universities and research institutions are performing remarkably well. The Dutch scientific establishment has been able to turn several unique Dutch characteristics into success. But the top listings and high citation-impact scores of Dutch research today, are results of past efforts. A good reason to focus on the future.

There are challenges. In the essay, the authors explain the fundaments of Dutch Science need revision. Public and private investments remain behind, universities have less money for research, external financing is eroding the very fundaments of success, and there is less room for fundamental research. Also scientific talent is moving abroad.

Major maintenance

Their appeal is supported by another prominent member of the Academy, notably professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In an interview in De Volkskrant the physicist is pledging for more scientific freedom. ‘We should not only share our knowledge with as many people as possible, we must also show how we got that knowledge and how that knowledge can be used. It's time for major maintenance.’

National Science Agenda

To secure the high standards in Dutch research, the authors believe embracing the Dutch National Research Agenda is a step in the good direction (a co-creative plan developed by Dutch research institutes and companies that was introduced in 2016).
The authors consider the Agenda to be a proper guiding tool for politicians and policy makers to help increase efforts in the field of research and innovation and fulfil the ambitions of the Second Rutte cabinet (2012). Co-author Wim van Saarloos: ‘It would be great if this publication points the new cabinet in the right direction’.

Unique academic polder

Fostering the core elements of Dutch scientific success may very well lead to the re-establishment of trust in the academic arena. Dutch science must benefit society and help answer important questions, so say the authors. ‘That can be accomplished if all parties involved recognize the uniqueness of our academic polder and are willing to strengthen its fundaments: with more financial scope, but also with an eye on the distinctive Dutch traditions and culture.

(Source: Van Dijck en Van Saarloos (2017). Wetenschap in Nederland: Waar een klein land groot in is en moet blijven, Amsterdam, KNAW.)