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  • From Weimar to Delft

    - At the start of the academic year, TU Delft-president Dirk Jan van den Berg looks ahead. “The joint government and research community challenge is to set the conditions right in order to maintain and even expand our prominent global research position.”

    Dirk Jan van den Berg started his speech looking back at a scientific conference last summer in the city of Goethe and Schiller, Weimar “They wanted to demonstrate that the current political tensions between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine and its wider implications for international stability are not representing the younger generations.”

    According to Van den Berg this gesture showed the “futility of old-fashioned territorial power politics” by which arts and sciences can never be bound. “Arts and Sciences can never be bound by politics. Scientists and artists will travel and will connect worldwide, bridging cultures and countries, creating new realities and establishing new spheres of influence.”

    Four conditions

    Establishing this kind of scientific culture is also the aim for the vision—paper on science policy for the long term, which Dutch minister Jet Bussemaker will present in the coming months. “The joint government and research community challenge is to set the conditions right in order to maintain and even expand our prominent global research position in the coming decades. “

    Four conditions have to be met in order to reach this goal, Van den Berg said. “the acquisition and retention of excellent researchers, the provision of world class research facilities, a reasonable research funding system and the autonomy of universities. In fact, these conditions were more or less in place in the last 30 years or so and have underpinned our current excellent research reputation. “

    A strong agenda

    The TU Delft president hopes “the minister will expand on our global competitive position on the issue if acquisition and retention of researchers.“ To get there, the agenda should consist, according to the TU Delft-president of four parts:

    1) science and its contribution to the societal challenges, more specifically a translation of the H2020 societal challenges into the Dutch context; the ministries could be asked to produce such an agenda;  

    2) science and its contribution to a competitive economy; a chapter that already has been largely covered by the topsector approach;

    3) research areas in which the government judges it necessary to have a stake in the world wide research efforts in these areas, like new materials, quantum computing, computational science and cyber security and  

    4) an open chapter simply to allow for a free blue sky type of research, giving the opportunity to our researchers to explore and to investigate without knowing what the outcome will be in terms of usability.  

    Van den Berg concluded by stressing that the Dutch trend towards performance agreements between government and HE-institutions might be conceptualised in the case of education, but will be quite difficult to apply in the case of scientific research. “My proposition is that universities are best served by funding stability, given the long term nature of their operations. “