Reduction in research applications NWO failed

Universities fail to perform a pre-selection in spite of agreement.
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The NWO (Dutch Research Council) and universities agreed in 2017 that the universities would perform a pre-selection of research proposals. This was to reduce the number of proposals submitted to the NWO and thus increase the chance of success. Four years later, it appears this agreement has failed to produce any results.

In 2017, the joint universities submitted a total of 5730 research proposals to the NWO, data from the research council reveals. In 2020, that number had increased to no less than 6803 proposals. This increase was partly caused by the universities and partly by other knowledge institutes that submitted proposals for applied research. Wageningen University submitted 299 proposals in 2017 and 273 in 2020. Although WUR did not contribute to the increase, there was barely any self-selection in Wageningen either.

Talent programmes

Dutch researchers have complained for years about having to submit proposals to funders with limited success. The NWO talent programmes and the National Science Agenda honour between 15 and 20 per cent of the proposals with funding, the remainder of the applicants have written their proposal for nothing. The universities and the NWO agree that this low success rate must be improved.


The greater issue is that there are insufficient funds available for research, says spokesperson Belinda van der Gaag of the NWO. This keeps researchers dependent on research grants, forcing them to continue to submit proposals. The NWO and the universities have been calling for a structural increase in the science budget for years.


Meanwhile, the NWO seeks to take measures to reduce the number of proposals and alleviate the pressure that researchers feel to submit proposals. In an effort to reach these goals, the NWO has improved its communication, allowing researchers to see what funds will become available when and under what conditions, enabling them to plan their proposals better. Moreover, the NWO will inform the individual universities on the number of proposals and the success rate, which could help researchers write more targeted proposals.


As yet, there are no strict measures to reduce the number of proposals. However, the NWO intends to investigate whether quotas may be applied more frequently. ‘Some programmes already have quota’, Van der Gaag states. ‘There are advantages and disadvantages to this system. We need to evaluate.’

The NWO will also investigate whether the deadlines for proposals could be lifted, allowing researchers to submit proposals at any time. This idea may not reduce the number of proposals, but may well lower the work pressure for researchers.

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