Less private sector funding for WUR PhD research

WUR publishes analysis of financial links between business community and Wageningen University.
An in-house analysis should help clarify the mist about money flows. Photo WUR

The private sector is spending less, not more, on PhD research at Wageningen compared with the past. That is the conclusion drawn by WUR on the basis of an internal study that builds on a survey by Resource in 2014.

The links between WUR and the private sector are regularly the subject of debate. Is science sufficiently shielded from commercial interests, is the university putting its independence and integrity at risk, and shouldn’t the dividing line be much stricter? In 2014, Resource carried out a survey and now the university has built on that to produce its own assessment of the flows of funds at Wageningen University. An analysis for Wageningen Research will follow, according to the announcement.

The assessment shows that over the past two years, 18 of the 577 PhD projects, which make up the bulk of Wageningen University’s scientific ‘production’, were financed by companies (3.1 per cent). That is less than in 2014, when 15 of the 287 PhDs were paid for by the private sector (5.2 per cent). Another comparison that sheds light on the commercial input: in 2020/21, the number of PhD projects funded by companies (18) was almost the same as the number financed personally by the PhD candidate (16).

Public-private mix

WUR also counted 34 PhD projects in the past two years that were funded with a mix of public and private money from consortiums or the ‘top sectors’, in which public organizations (often the government) collaborate with science institutions, NGOs and commercial companies on research. This share has declined too. In total, the number of PhD funded entirely or partially from private sources fell from 17.7 per cent in 2014 to 9 per cent in 2020/2021. The complete analysis can be found on the WUR website.

The assessment also looked at what proportion of the professors are financed by industry. Wageningen University has 56 professors who are funded by external organizations. Fifteen of them are financed by industry (26 per cent). According to WUR’s analysis, the remainder are financed by public institutions (6), NGOs (8) and other science institutions (27). WUR has 231 professors in total.

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