How do I pay for my research?
Funding opportunities in the
As with any country, the Dutch system has its own peculiarities when it comes to research funding and it will take some time to become acquainted with the landscape of grants that are offered at national and European level. The vast majority of these funding schemes are open to non-nationals, and securing a Dutch research grant is in some cases the way academics start working in the Netherlands in the first place.
Dutch research funding is allocated through three ‘funding streams’ (geldstromen). The first funding stream consists of the block grant that universities receive directly from the government to pay for their teaching and research activities. The first funding stream is also used to match funding obtained through the second and third streams. For example, NWO grants do not provide funding for overheads, which must then be paid by the university department or faculty. Read more in this report of the Rathenau Institute.
By international standards, the first funding stream in the Netherlands is relatively large compared to the second and third funding streams we describe below. The second funding stream consists of Dutch government funds allocated through competitive grants for research projects and programmes. The Dutch Research Council (NWO, see Sections 2.3 and 4.2) manages the allocation of this funding stream. Also, NWO-I and KNAW receive government funding labelled as second funding stream, which they then allocate to the base budgets of their research institutes. The third stream concerns project-related funding by government ministries, international bodies such as the European Union (e.g., via the European Research Council, ERC), charities, or the private sector. In the medical sciences, the third funding stream is generally divided into European Union, health funds and foundations (third stream) and business and private funding (fourth stream).
Apart from enabling academics to set up their own research lines, such grants and programmes are crucial to furthering an academic career. In the Netherlands, getting a PhD position, receiving tenure or being promoted often depends on one’s success in acquiring funding, although this is somewhat changing with the new Recognition and Rewards programme (see Section 5.5). Some grants in particular - e.g., the NWO Talent programme (Veni, Vidi, and Vici, see Section 4.2) and the ERC Starting, Consolidator and Advanced grants (see Section 4.5) - are considered by some as milestones in a successful scientific career.
Some funding schemes offer individual grants or fellowships, which allow researchers to choose the institution (within but sometimes also outside of the Netherlands) at which they wish to carry out their research. This also means that when researchers with individual grants move between universities or research institutes, they are allowed to take the grant with them. Other schemes, however, allocate the grant or fellowship to the university. In those cases, a researcher moving to another institution loses the grant, while the university can use the funds to hire someone else.
It would be impossible in this guide to list all existing grant schemes available in the Netherlands. Across all fields, they number in the hundreds and are constantly being adapted and redesigned. What we offer here is an overview of the broad outlines per funding agency. For more detail, check the website of EURAXESS– the Netherlands, which collects up-to-date information on Dutch grants and fellowships. Furthermore, note that most (perhaps all) Dutch universities have a grants office, that provides resources for navigating the funding landscape and can also help prepare applications and interviews.
Dutch Research Council (NWO)
NWO is the national research council of the Netherlands and operates under the auspices of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). It is the foremost sponsor of research at Dutch universities and research institutes. An overview of the existing schemes can be found on its website. While some of these schemes have continued for decades and have regular deadlines, there are also continuous changes to the grants programme. Thus, it is important to stay up-to-date.
Overall, NWO’s research instruments fall under various categories. Traditionally, the focus has been on ‘curiosity-driven’ or basic research (fundamenteel onderzoek). Increasingly, however, NWO also invests in what it describes as ‘thematic research’, that is, research geared towards finding solutions for social, economic and cultural issues and set up partly in consultation with private or civil society partners. NWO also invests in research programmes aimed at international collaboration and exchange or at knowledge dissemination and open access publication of research results. Whether a grant proposal will have a societal impact and thereby promotes impact (kennisbenutting) is an important assessment criterion. Though this evaluation criterion might only weigh for 20% in some cases, performing well on this point can nonetheless make the difference between getting the grant or not (although you are also allowed to choose the option ‘scientific impact only’).
The frequency of the funding round depends on the instrument and varies from once or several times per year to continuous submission. A selection committee or jury assesses the research proposals. These committees are typically staffed by other Dutch academics. It is important to know that these committees often have broad representation across various fields. As such, it is critical for the proposal to be engaging and understandable to academics outside one’s field. On the other hand, in most instances the committee consults external specialists, who act as peer reviewers. So, the proposal also needs to convince specialists. This can be a difficult balance to achieve.
NWO offers different grant types: individual grants, programmatic grants, grants for cooperation and exchange, and investments in big facilities. Here we list only a few of the more common ones. NWO, however, runs several dozens of very specific schemes. It is therefore worth checking the NWO website to see whether the organisation offers grants that match your specific research interests.
Overall, there are relatively few grant programmes specifically for individual PhD candidates in the Netherlands. Rather, senior researchers acquire funding and then advertise PhD positions to work on particular topics, or specific projects. Particularly in the exact sciences, PhD research usually forms part of a bigger project headed by more senior academic staff. NWO, however, does award several grants that support independent PhDs. These include PhDs in the Humanities and Doctoral Grants for Teachers. Mosaic 2.0 is a PhD scholarship program aimed at the under-represented group of graduates with a migration background from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Turkey in the Netherlands.
The goal of the Rubicon programme is to encourage talented recent PhD graduates to pursue a career in postdoctoral research. The Rubicon grant offers researchers who have completed their doctorate in the past year the chance to gain experience at a top research institution abroad (for a maximum period of two years).
The Talent programme (Talentprogramma) is a long-running, highly visible and very competitive funding programme that encourages individual researchers to conduct their own research project independently. It offers individual grants that are also meant to encourage mobility between research institutes. In some cases, the acquisition of one of these grants can lead to a tenure-track position or promotion to associate/full professor. The programme is divided into three parts:
- Veni: a maximum of € 280,000 for researchers to pay their own full salary (typically for three years) and research expenses (travel and small equipment). Candidates are eligible for up to three years after receiving their PhD.
- Vidi: a maximum of € 800,000 for mid-career researchers who want to develop their own research group and appoint one or more co-researchers. Some departments will require the PI to pay at least 50% of their own salary using the grant. That typically leaves enough room to hire two PhD candidates or postdocs. Candidates are eligible for up to eight years after receiving their PhD. They need to have considerable research experience and some demonstration of successful student/PhD supervision.
- Vici: a maximum of € 1.5 million for senior researchers to create or bolster their own research group. Candidates are eligible for up to fifteen years after receiving their PhD and must be world leaders in their field in order to be successful.
Note that these eligibility windows may be extended due to maternity leave, parental leave, long-term illness and training as a clinical specialist. In recent years, the success rate of these grants has been around 10-15%. In some cases, a shorter pre-proposal is required and only a fraction of those proposers are encouraged to submit a full proposal. For Vidi funding, researchers can only submit applications with an ‘embedding guarantee’ (inbeddingsgarantie), stating the support of the institution where they intend to conduct their research.
The Open Competition (Open competitie) programme encourages research that is not linked to a particular theme. Several NWO divisions organise such open competitions. The programmes fund the cost of research as well as the staffing costs of PhD candidates or postdocs.
Hestia - Impulse for Refugees in Science
In consultation with KNAW, The Young Academy and the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF), NWO has developed the Hestia programme for researchers residing in the Netherlands as refugees and wishing to start or continue an academic career there. By making short-term funding available, NWO provides the opportunity to join already funded research projects in all fields of research and build a network in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. At the same time they will be able to actively share knowledge and expertise, and to familiarise themselves with the research landscape.
ZonMw stimulates health research and care innovation throughout the entire knowledge chain from fundamental research to implementation. Through various subsidy programmes they promote and fund development and practical application in the area of prevention improvement, care and health.
Direct government research funding
Gravitation (Zwaartekracht programma) is intended for consortia of scientists who conduct innovative and influential research within their professional discipline. The purpose is to encourage research programmes to achieve international breakthroughs. The consortia also make a substantial contribution to the training of talented researchers.
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is dedicated to the advancement of science, scholarship, and the arts in the Netherlands (see Section 2.4). In addition to its various advisory and administrative functions, the Academy also manages funding programmes and awards, some prestigious, like the Heineken Prizes and some specific, e.g. in Indian languages (Gonda Fund), mathematical logic (Arend Heyting Foundation) and ecology (Academy Ecology Fund). For a general overview, see the KNAW website.
European Union (Horizon Europe)
Horizon Europe is the EU's research and innovation programme for 2021-2027 with a budget of €95.5 billion. It was preceded by Horizon 2020 which had the same general divisions and aims. New elements in Horizon Europe are the European Innovation Council and Missions. The Horizon Europe programme consist of three ‘pillars’. Pillar I: Excellent Science (European Research Council, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, Research Infrastructures), Pillar II: Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness (including several clusters such as Health) and Pillar III: Innovative Europe (e.g., European Innovation Ecosystems). For a full overview of funding possibilities see their website.
The ERC programme offers individual grants for innovative research that is described as ‘high risk – high gain’. These highly competitive grants can be used to fund the staffing and research costs of the Principal Investigators as well as several PhD candidates and postdocs. The most important funding instruments, all of which sponsor five-year projects, are the ERC Starting Grant for young early-career researchers (2-7 years after PhD, up to € 1.5 million), the ERC Consolidator Grant for independent researchers (7-12 years after PhD, up to € 2 million), and the ERC Advanced Grant for senior research leaders (no age limit, up to € 2.5 million). These personal grants are also highly attractive because one can request additional funding, up to € 1.0 million, for research instrumentation and/or access to large facilities. Also, unlike with NWO, these ERC grants can pay a significant fraction of the overheads that accompany staff positions. The aforementioned budgets include 25% for such overheads.
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA)
The MSCA are designed to support transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. They include funding for short-term research mobility, individual fellowships for experienced researchers (for two-year research stays abroad) and grants for setting up joint doctoral training programmes.
Country-specific collaborative funding schemes
There are various funding schemes that aim to encourage exchange and collaboration between research carried out in the Netherlands and other specific countries or regions. Countries and regions for which such schemes exist include France (Van Gogh Programme), Latin America (ALFA), Japan (Canon Foundation in Europe), South Africa (Mandela Scholarship Fund of Leiden University), the United Kingdom (British Council Netherlands) and the United States (Fulbright Fellowships). Many universities offer programmes to set up international collaborations via shared PhD-programmes. See the websites of EURAXESS and UNL for more information.
2022 The Young Academy (De Jonge Akademie)
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Text: Raf de Bont, Tatiana Filatova, Jason Hessels, Nathalie Katsonis, Christian Lange
Illustrations: Rachelle Meyer
Design & realisation: WAT ontwerpers
Preferred citation: The Young Academy (2022). A beginner’s guide to Dutch academia, Amsterdam