Photographer:Fotograaf: Flickr Robert Couse-Baker
MAASTRICHT. Impact factors, h-indexes, individual subsidies. If it’s up to the universities and research financers in the Netherlands, these aspects will become less important. The assessment and funding systems for researchers must change fundamentally. Maastricht rector Rianne Letschert may be seen as the force behind this. She plead for a different assessment system since her appointment as rector two years ago. The first steps will be taken next year.
The careers of researchers and the distribution of research grants are closely linked to the assessment of the researchers' achievements. The last few years, there has been growing criticism and that is why something is going to change.
“It is a topic that is on the minds of many,” confirms Pieter Duisenberg, chairman of university association VSNU. Together with the university hospitals and research financers NWO and ZonMW, the universities are going to set up a dialogue with researchers, unions and others next year.
He doesn't want to say much beforehand about possible results, but there should definitely be more appreciation for ‘team science’. “Many people contribute towards creating new knowledge and it causes bad feelings when those efforts are not acknowledged,” says Duisenberg. At the moment, most grants and awards are aimed at individual researchers.
In addition, teaching is still regarded as the poor relation: more appreciation for lecturers’ teaching achievements should lead to good lecturers making faster careers at universities.
The social impact of scientific research will also play a greater role: the idea is that some scientists are very good at translating the results of their research into useful or lucrative applications and that should be rewarded.
So, is everything up in the air now? Duisenberg: “The system we have, will not be thrown completely overboard. But we do want to make definite headway.”
If possible, the Dutch would also like to convince the rest of the world that something needs to be done. Duisenberg says he will discuss the matter with his European colleagues.”
One of the advocates of changing the assessment of academic performance is the action group Science in Transition, which was founded five years ago. “You may say that it should have happened sooner, but this is more or less the pace at which such changes take place”, says secretary Rinze Benedictus.
He does feel that it is right that less focus is put on the number of publications and the impact factor of journals and more on the reason why people carry out their research. “We are researchers, so we will continue to publish and it will always remain important how often our articles are quoted by other researchers. But we must realise that quality is more than the quantity of publications and impact factors of journals.”