Chapter 1. Overview of the higher education system in the Netherlands

This chapter presents the higher education system in the Netherlands. It presents key actors, and discusses the funding arrangements for education and research. The chapter provides an overview of the quality assurance mechanisms and human resource policies in higher education. It provides an introduction to the framework conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education and some recent policies for strengthening the innovative potential of the Netherlands. These will be further discussed in subsequent chapters.



The Netherlands is a highly developed knowledge-based economy, performing very well in many science, technology, innovation and competitiveness rankings. Its 2016 rate of tertiary attainment is at 45.7% of the population aged 30-34 years, well above the 2020 target of the European Union (EU). The country has an innovative business sector with high rates of patenting activity, owing also to the presence of large, globally networked and efficient research and development (R&D) spenders. It outperforms the EU average in terms of top R&D spending enterprises, with an average of 46.0 top spending enterprises per 10 million inhabitants compared to the EU average of 29.9 (European Union, 2017 for the period 2011-15).

Relative to the EU average, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are oriented more towards services than manufacturing with key strengths in transport, logistics, information technology and finance. This partly reflects the role of the Netherlands as a gateway to Europe and its large volume of re-exports. Alongside good export performance in high-technology sectors such as electronics and pharmaceuticals, Dutch exports are also strong in sectors that are traditionally not considered as knowledge-intensive or high-technology, notably in niches of agriculture and the food industry.

The government has committed to spend 2.5% of GDP by 2020 on R&D from both public and private sources. In 2015, R&D expenditure as a share of GDP in the Netherlands was 0.5 percentage points below this target, slightly above the OECD average. At 0.72% in 2015, the direct government budget for R&D as a share of GDP was higher than the EU average (0.64%). However, business enterprise expenditure on R&D (BERD) was at 1.12% of GDP in 2015, relatively low compared to the EU-28 average of 1.23% and OECD average of 1.65%.

The Innovation Union Scoreboard 2016 ranks the Netherlands in 5th place on the list of innovation leaders following Germany, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden (EU, 2016). A key strength of the Dutch innovation system lies in the quality of its science base, as reflected in the number and quality of scientific publications. The percentage of scientific publications that count among the top 10% most cited publications (14.5%) is above the worldwide average (10.5%); only the Swiss share (15.7%) is higher. The Dutch research system is very open to co-operation with partners from abroad and its researchers are well networked at international level. This is manifested in international scientific co‐publications, public-private co-publications and new doctorate graduates.

The Netherlands enjoys moderately high shares of knowledge-intensive employment (on the basis of their average propensity to employ tertiary graduates). Eurostat figures for 2015 show that the share of employment in knowledge-intensive industries was relatively high at 38.1%, roughly two percentage points above the EU average. A particular strength of the country’s innovation system is the expansion of professional education in the universities of applied sciences (UAS).

Table 1.1 presents an overview of basic facts on higher education in the Netherlands.

Table 1.1. Basic facts on higher education in the Netherlands

Population (1 January 2017)

17.1 million

GDP in EUR per capita (2015)

40 000

Total government expenditure on tertiary education as % of GDP (2015)


Tertiary attainment in population aged 25-64 (2015)

 of which:

     Short cycle tertiary education









Expenditure on tertiary education institutions as % of GDP (2013)


Expenditure (from public and private sources) on R&D as % of GDP (2015)


Direct government budget for R&D as % of GDP (2015)


Number of students in publicly funded HE institutions (all levels, all modes; 2015/16)

 of which:

     Universities of Applied Sciences


701 086*

442 567

261 176

Tertiary degrees conferred (2014/15)

 of which:

     Degrees by Universities of Applied Sciences (bachelor’s, master’s, associate degree)

     Degrees by Universities (BA, MA, first degree, second degree)

133 102

59 521

73 581

R&D personnel per thousand total employment (2015)


Higher education researchers as % of national total (2015)


Number of citable research documents (2016)

50 349

Citations per document (2016)


* During an academic year students can switch between universities and universities of applied sciences and are then counted twice. In the overall total these students are counted only once. Therefore the sum of the parts is greater than the overall total.

Source: Author’s own compilation from EUROSTAT, OECD, Scimago Research Group and National Statistical Agency (CBS).

Notwithstanding the country’s strong innovation performance, a policy debate has been underway since the early 2000s on how to enhance the interaction between science, industry and government, and more recently on how to stimulate entrepreneurship as a means to create value from science and technology, and to enable talent for innovation more broadly.

Like many other European countries, the Netherlands is struggling with the challenge of creating value from the excellent knowledge it is producing. Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial competencies are considered to be crucial for translating research and education inputs into economic value and, more broadly, for creating social impact (or public value). Creating economic, social and cultural value from scientific knowledge has therefore been included in the statutory duties (i.e. the missions) of Dutch universities and UAS as “valorisation”.

In 2014, the OECD assessed the Dutch innovation system and found that it offers, in many respects, an excellent business environment (OECD, 2014). Many of the conditions relevant to business creation are largely supportive. However, there are barriers to growth after the startup phase. This observation was echoed recently by Technopolis in a study on the growth barriers of academic start-ups. Key barriers are a scarcity of start-up funding and entrepreneurship competencies (Technopolis, 2015).

Many Dutch people consider becoming an entrepreneur to be an attractive career option, although attitudes towards accepting business failures and giving entrepreneurs a second chance could improve. Graduates first see themselves working as an employee, and only some time later as a founder of a company. According to the Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey (GUESSS), 6% of students want to work in their own firm directly after their studies; five years later, this applies to 27% of all students, although students in UAS in the Netherlands are somewhat more likely to have entrepreneurial intentions (both on graduation and five years later) as compared to students in research universities (ECE, 2014).1

Key actors and elements of the Dutch higher education system

There are many actors, relationships, funding mechanisms, policies and inter-relations in the higher education and research system in the Netherlands. The following section presents a brief description of the main actors in the system and their roles.

Higher education institutions and their representative organisations

In the Netherlands, higher education – covering levels 5 and 6 of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) – can be broadly divided into two distinct domains:

  • The publicly-funded higher education sector, including research universities and UAS, offering programmes at ISCED 5A level

  • The privately-funded higher education sector, consisting of private universities (ISCED 5A) and professional education institutions offering post-secondary programmes (ISCED 5A and 5B).

The publicly-funded higher education is binary in structure. On the one side, there are 13 research universities, an Open University and four small denominational universities (e.g. theological universities). On the other side, there are 37 universities of applied sciences (UAS; in Dutch: hogescholen). Over 63% of students are enrolled in the UAS sector.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) represents the interests of the research universities, whereas the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences (VH) unites all government-funded UAS in the Netherlands. VSNU and VH function also as employers’ organisations on behalf of their member HEIs and negotiate with the unions on collective labour agreements.

The privately-funded sector consists of one private business university and several higher professional education institutions offering mainly bachelor’s degrees and short-cycle programmes. These institutions are private – not just in the legal sense, but also from the perspective of their resources, as they do not receive government funding. They may nevertheless be recognised by the public authorities as being institutions that deliver tertiary education degrees. The Dutch Council of Training and Education (NRTO) is the umbrella trade association of private training and education providers. Some of the larger (e.g. online) private providers are not members of NRTO. Data on the private institutions is very sketchy and not gathered by statistical agencies.

Research universities and the UAS sector are governed by the same legal framework stipulated by the Higher Education and Research Act of 1993. It governs the quality of the publicly-funded institutions, planning and budgeting, personnel, education, registration, teaching, examinations and doctoral studies, requirements for preliminary education and admission, students and external student auditors, the legal protection of students and external student auditors, and the administration and structure of the various institutions. The Act provides the accountability frameworks, for instance with respect to annual reporting and audit arrangements. The Act also extends to the university hospitals (the university medical centres, which are independent entities closely affiliated to a university), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Royal Library (Rathenau Instituut, 2008).

Quality control of higher education programmes is carried out by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). Established in 2005, the NVAO’s role encompasses quality assessment, evaluation and control. The Inspectorate of Education (in Dutch: Onderwijsinspectie) is responsible for the inspection and review of educational institutions, including in higher education.

Research universities and research schools

Research universities focus on the independent practice of research-oriented work in an academic or professional setting. They train students in academic study and research, although many study programmes also have a professional component. In terms of research, the universities are expected to strive for excellence and relevance involving strengthening the quality of their research groups, concentrating their research on areas of strength, and creating economic, social and cultural value from their research. The latter includes taking initiatives to make research contribute to stimulating innovation in economically important areas.

Attention is mostly focused on the 13 publicly-funded research universities. They consist of three universities of technology and a university focusing on life sciences and agriculture (Wageningen). The remainder are general universities, eight of them associated with an Academic Medical Centre. Taken together, in 2015 the 13 universities offered 400 bachelor degree programmes and 800 master’s programmes, while the UAS offered some 850 bachelor-level programmes, 145 master’s programmes and 90 associate degree programmes.

The research universities are well placed in international rankings. Of the top 50 higher education organisations receiving the most EU funding from Horizon 2020 in signed grants for calls closed in 2015, 9 were based in the Netherlands, compared with 15 in the United Kingdom, 5 in Germany and 5 in Sweden (EC, 2016). The Technical University Delft is 5th on this list with over EUR 50 million in EU funding and 69 participations.

Since the early 1990s, a large number of research schools have been created by research universities. These schools are places where universities work together to offer structured training programmes to – primarily – PhD candidates that work in a particular disciplinary field. The Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW) is responsible for the accreditation of the research schools. A small part of the universities’ public grant is allocated to support research schools. Today, more than 60 research schools exist; a few of them have been awarded the status of “top research school” and receive additional public funding. Apart from research schools, universities also have graduate schools, where PhD programmes and programmes for students doing a research master’s degree are based.

Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS)

The UAS prepare students directly for specific professions and careers. Their study programmes focus on the practical application of knowledge. The UAS mostly award bachelor’s degrees, but they have recently also started to award associate degrees and master’s degrees.

The UAS sector is very diverse. Some offer a wide range of programmes and play an important role as providers of higher professional education for their region. Others are more specialised, such as schools dedicated to the arts, and colleges for teacher training, agricultural studies, hotel management and tourism, with some, in particular the art schools, having a wider, even possibly international, catchment area. Since 2006, UAS offer two-year associate degree programmes to bridge the gap between post-secondary vocational education and higher education.

Access to higher education is – with some exceptions (e.g. medical programmes that have a fixed number of new entrants) – open to all students who hold the required entrance qualifications, implying that there is little entrance selection. However, for master’s degree programmes the selection of students is possible.

Out of the 100 000 new UAS entrants, on average 3 in 10 students are from vocational education and training (VET) colleges. The Netherlands has 66 VET colleges (MBO), i.e. public schools for vocational education and training, enrolling some 490 000 students. One in five VET graduates continues his/her educational career in the UAS sector.

The UAS have a unique position within the country combining educational tasks on the one hand and connections to regional business communities on the other. In the (applied) research area, UAS are still relatively underdeveloped compared to other European countries that have a binary system with a polytechnic sector. Both their research budget and the research skills of their staff have not yet reached levels that are comparable to those of, for instance the Fachhochschulen in the German-speaking countries, the Institutes of Technology in Ireland, the Ammattikorkeakoulu in Finland, or the former polytechnics in the United Kingdom.

The Dutch UAS are catching up though, partly thanks to dedicated funding flows for applied research and the creation, some 15 years ago, of the lector position, a special type of UAS-professorship. The lector usually heads a team of UAS colleagues (a lectorate) consisting of approximately ten lecturer-researchers involved in applied (practice-oriented) research. Representatives from the world of work are often part of this team. Students may also play a role in projects carried out within the lectorate. The lectors carry out applied research and develop new knowledge with and for their professional fields. They do not have the right to award PhDs, unlike professors in research universities. The public funding for the lectors is part of the institutional core budget and is augmented by funds raised from industry, non-profits and public sector organisations. The government pays for approximately 70% of the lector positions and the rest are funded by external partners. So far, more than 600 of these positions have been created in the UAS.

UAS are encouraged to specialise in their own research themes, strengthen their research infrastructure, and link up with other HEIs and the private sector. The research in the UAS sector is known as practice-oriented research or design and development, highlighting that the UAS sector carries out its own type of research. The UAS institutions are also expected to develop a stronger connection between research and education and encourage their students to acquire more research skills as part of an increased attention to building 21st century skills (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2015).

Several Centres of Expertise were established by the UAS sector from 2011 onwards to improve the connection between education and the labour market.The aim is to promote and stimulate innovation in professional education and support innovation within firms: students, teachers and UAS-researchers address real-world challenges, working towards innovative solutions that strengthen economic competitiveness.

Centres of Expertise are of particular importance for the valorisation of knowledge and research produced in the UAS sector. Activities are often concentrated on a particular theme that is usually linked closely to the local economy. The aim is to involve students in the activities in order to make a stronger connection between research and education and to encourage students to acquire more research skills.

Each Centre of Expertise is established as a collaborative consortium between a UAS, private companies, research institutes and other partners (for example vocational schools and local governmental organisations).

Generally, half of the financing of the Centre of Expertise is provided by the consortium – of which at least half is from the private sector. This makes for shared ownership of the Centre of Expertise. The other 50% consists of a temporary (four to five year) subsidiary funding. 19 Centres of Expertise were established as a result of financial incentives from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science or the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Ministries and intermediary bodies

At government level, the most important actors are the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has an overall responsibility for the governance of the HEIs and the public research organisations and research institutes. The Ministry of Economic Affairs has the responsibility for innovation policy instruments and all matters concerning applied and industry-oriented R&D. The two ministries work together on areas such as the promotion of entrepreneurship and the strengthening of the links between education and the world of work.

The Education Council (in Dutch: Onderwijsraad) is an independent governmental advisory body which advises the Minister of Education, the Minister of Economic Affairs, Parliament and local authorities on issues related to education (at all levels from pre-primary to higher education).

Every four years, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science releases its strategic agenda, setting out the government’s higher education policies for the future. The most recent agenda (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2015) was published in 2015 and primarily covers policies and spending plans related to education. Policy aims related to research are covered by a separate policy document, also published regularly, the so-called Science Budget (Dutch: Wetenschapsbudget). The latest Science Budget was published in 2016.

Decisions on distributing science budgets and on implementing research and innovation policies are mediated through various intermediary bodies. The most important is the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), a central intermediate funding organisation in the field of fundamental and strategic research. The NWO awards competitive research grants to researchers and research teams on the basis of proposals. Apart from playing a role as a funding organisation, nine research institutes in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, computer science, physics, history, maritime research, law, criminality and space research are directly overseen by the NWO.

The NWO underwent a major restructuring in 2017. The nine scientific areas which the NWO covers were grouped into four domains – exact and natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, applied sciences and engineering, and medical sciences – each with its own governance structure under the umbrella of NWO. Furthermore, the research institutes owned by NWO now have a separate organisation. The Taskforce for Applied Research (SIA), which awards grants to UAS, is also part of NWO.

Individual researchers that seek research council funding are now required to include a paragraph in their proposal on knowledge utilisation and on how their research will contribute to the public good. As part of NWO, the applied and technical sciences cluster (previously known as STW) has, for some time already, employed user groups to oversee the social and economic take up of the research sponsored by the research council.

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) is an independent council advising the government on issues of science policy, especially related to the field of basic research (e.g. codes of conduct, quality assurance, and research schools). The KNAW owns 15 research institutes that perform basic research, such as in the life sciences, humanities and scientific information. These are research institutes comparable to those of NWO. It also awards scientific prizes and scholarships to researchers. An important role for the KNAW is to help set out the criteria that are used nationally to assess the quality of academic research.

The Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) is an independent body that advises the government and the parliament on policies relating to scientific research, technology development and innovation. The AWTI also acts as a council that the government can consult. Several other bodies are also relevant for science policy advice, such as the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) and the Rathenau Institute.

The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) advises on issues related to, for instance, the labour market. The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) and the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) also regularly produce reports on higher education and research matters. The VSNU, the Association of Universities in the Netherlands also plays an active role in the science policy debate.

Another body responsible for managing and implementing policies in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship is the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland; RVO). This agency of the Ministry of Economic Affairs is primarily focused on innovation subsidies for entrepreneurs, but it also provides information, training, and individual advice for universities on how to participate in the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Public research organisations: technological institutes

Besides the aforementioned research institutes under the umbrella of the Academy of Sciences (KNAW) and the Research Council (NWO), there are also publicly supported applied research organisations. These are known as technological institutes and collaborate in the TO2 federation.

TO2 comprises the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Deltares (applied research in the field of water and subsurface), the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), the National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR), and the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands (MARIN). The TO2 organisations conduct applied research and related activities, such as supporting industry and government in specific fields. The TO2 institutes receive basic financing from the government, but a large part of their budgets derives from specific ministry allocations, European research funds and contract research carried out for industry.

The Leading Technological Institutes (LTIs) is another group of public research organisations. They were created in 1997 as virtual organisations in which companies, research universities and other public knowledge institutes participate through public-private partnerships. Initially there were four such institutes in the fields of nutrition, metals, polymers and telematics. Later on, other LTIs were added operating in the fields of pharmaceutics, molecular medicine, green genetics, water technology, and biomedical materials. The nine LTIs that still exist today closely collaborate with research universities and (international) research institutes. They are participating in the Top Consortia for Knowledge and Innovation (TKIs) that were established as part of the Top Sectors policy (see below).

Research assessment arrangements

Since 1993, external peer committees have evaluated fundamental research taking place in the research universities along the four dimensions of quality: i) productivity (i.e. number of publications per academic), ii) quality of (publication) output, iii) societal relevance, and iv) long-term viability of the research group. All of the university research carried out at faculty/department level, in as far as this is organised in research programmes, is judged on a five-point scale. The reviews are organised under the auspices of the VSNU following a common protocol.

The protocol used for the quality assessments of the research was revised a few years ago by the VSNU, the NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The new Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) for the period 2015-21 no longer evaluates the productivity (i.e. research volume) of a unit but primarily focuses on quality, relevance and sustainability (KNAW, 2014). External assessment committees (peers) conduct these assessments for each unit or institute once every six years on a rolling schedule.

In its evaluation report, the assessment committee offers its opinion both in text (qualitative) and in categories (quantitative, using categories 1 to 4). The four possible categories are excellent, very good, good and unsatisfactory. The university or research institute decides the follow up action based on the external assessment committee’s evaluation results and recommendations. There is no direct connection between the outcome of the quality assessment and the amount of the public grant received by the university for research, but the university administration can (and does) take the judgement by the external peer committees into account for its internal policymaking and resource allocation.

Societal relevance of research, engagement and value creation have long been included as criteria in the SEP. This takes into account the contributions made to specific economic, social or cultural audiences, as expressed through contract research, advisory reports for policy-makers or contributions to public debate. The SEP intentionally avoids including an exhaustive list of measurement indicators. The SEP also requests a narrative description of the societal relevance (i.e. impact) of the research in question.

The quality of the practice-oriented research in the UAS sector cannot be evaluated in the same way as the more fundamental research of the university sector, also because research activity in the UAS sector is more recent. Nevertheless, national evaluations of UAS research do take place nowadays, based on a protocol published by the VH, the umbrella organisation of UAS institutions (Verenigung Hogescholen, 2015). The evaluation process takes place on a six‐year basis and involves an external committee and a site visit by an expert panel.

The evaluation criteria for UAS are, however, quite different from those of the SEP. The evaluations show that this type of research is beneficial to professional practice and has important links to student training – in particular in light of the above discussion on 21st century skills. The evaluation considers how the research is organised and embedded in the UAS and the degree to which the research has had an impact on professional practice and society, on education and staff professionalisation, and on the knowledge development within the research area. The indicators used for assessing quality relate to research inputs (e.g. numbers of researchers, lectors, revenues) and outputs/outcomes (i.e. publications, workshops, expert meetings, demonstrations, membership of committees, grants received, client satisfaction, etc.).

The UAS face some challenges in keeping up with the evaluation requirements because UAS staff (in particular the older staff) do not yet possess the required research qualifications and research experience. In the UAS sector, there is a need to further upgrade research skills and invest in research facilities. This challenge has been partly addressed through the creation of the above mentioned Centres of Expertise in the UAS and the appointment of lectors which have led to a greater focus and thematic concentration of research activities.

Funding of education and research in Dutch higher education

Research universities and UAS receive funding through the following sources:

  • tuition fees paid by students

  • a core grant (lump sum) provided by the government for education, research and knowledge dissemination

  • competitive project- and programme-based research funding, provided by the research council (NWO and its departments) or the Academy of Sciences

  • project-based funding for education and research carried out for public and private clients.

All students pay tuition fees. If students are studying full-time and they are from the European Union, the European Economic Area, or Switzerland, they pay a fee that is equal across all HEIs and programmes. The level of the fee is set by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (in 2017 this was around EUR 2 000). Other students, for instance non-European students, Dutch part-time students and students that already have completed a degree in the Netherlands also pay a fee, but its rate is set by the HEI itself. In the case of students from outside Europe this fee is considerably higher and often close to a full-cost fee. In 2014, for the publicly funded universities the total revenue from tuition fees was EUR 560 million (Koier et al., 2016) and EUR 800 million for the UAS.

The core grant is the largest source of revenue for Dutch HEIs. In 2014, it was over 4.6 billion for the research universities. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (and the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the cases of Wageningen Agricultural University and the UAS in the field of agriculture) provide the public funds as a lump sum. This amount consists of budget components for education and research respectively, but the HEIs have large degrees of freedom on the distribution of these resources.

For research universities the core funds for education are 70% formula-based and 30% based on fixed allocations. Currently, the formula funds for education partly (roughly for two-thirds) depend on the total amount of student enrolments and bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For the formula, only enrolments onto standard length courses are taken into account (in the research universities: three years for a bachelor; one, two or three years for a master’s, depending on the programme). Enrolments and degrees are weighted by three different funding rates: low, high and top. The low rate of 1 for studies in the field of economy, law, social sciences and humanities, and language and culture; the high rate of 1.5 for education, agriculture, technology, and health; and the top rate of 3 for medicine-related programmes. Another part (one third) of the formula funds for education is provided in the shape of largely fixed sums per university. The same approach is used for the UAS (with the proviso that bachelor’s programmes last four years and master’s normally one year) with the rates being 1, 1.28 and 1.5 respectively.

In 2014, some 15% of the universities’ core funds for research were based on the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees – again distinguishing three subject weights (low, high, top) and, on top of that, doubling the weight for master’s degrees. In that same year, 25% of core funding was based on the number of PhD degrees, applying a fixed rate per PhD. From 2017 onwards, the formula-based allocation for PhDs has been reduced to 20% of the total research allocation, implying a lower rate per PhD. The remainder of the research allocation (60% in 2014; 65% from 2017 onwards) is distributed primarily on the basis of fixed (historically-based) allocations per university, including subsidies for a selected number of research schools (i.e. the six top research schools).

In the UAS sector, the core grant is 90% based on a formula (that takes into account weighted enrolments and degrees – as described above) and 10% based on fixed allocations per UAS. In 2014, the core grant was EUR 2.8 billion. The fixed allocations for the UAS are targeted to support lectorates and practice-oriented research. The research allocations are limited in size and roughly proportional to the education component of the core grant for UAS.

The core grant is intended to support the teaching and research mission of the HEIs. It is important to note that there is no separate funding stream for valorisation, but, as discussed below, there are various dedicated public funds for valorisation. In addition, competitively awarded research funding also takes valorisation activities into account (e.g. the NWO’s Innovation Research Incentive Scheme Veni, Vidi, Vici).

Core grant tied to performance agreements

For the period 2012-16, 7% of the core grant was tied to performance agreements. This accounts for approximately EUR 130 million for the research universities and EUR 170 million for the UAS sector. 2017 was a transition year towards a next round of agreements. The 7% consisted of 5% for a conditional budget, that is, conditional on the signing of the performance agreement, and continued after 2016 on the condition that the 2015 performance targets are achieved, and 2% for a selective budget, that is, a competitive fund awarding more funding for the best proposals; “best” primarily in terms of programme differentiation and research concentration.

The performance agreements included quantitative and qualitative targets, defined by the HEIs themselves. Where the conditional budget (the 5%) was tied to quantitative targets in terms of the quality of education and student completion rates, the selective budget (the 2%) was primarily for encouraging and rewarding performance in terms of differentiation and profiling in education and research and enhancing knowledge dissemination. The quantitative performance indicators for the conditional budget were: student completion (bachelor students only), student drop-out rates in year 1, share of year 1 students switching to other programmes, the number of students in honours programmes, student satisfaction scores, teaching intensity (i.e. student hours per week in class), academic staff qualifications, and the share of overhead (indirect) costs.

The ambitions relating to the selective budget were mostly expressed in qualitative terms, but institutions were encouraged to also make use of indicators, for instance to underline research and valorisation ambitions. For research, some of the indicators related to the outcomes of research assessments or the success at winning competitive grants from organisations like the European Research Council. Examples of indicators used for illustrating valorisation activities are: students taking entrepreneurship courses, third party income (from private industry or non-profits), the number of licensing agreements, the number of spin-offs created, and the number of co-publications with industry. Half of the selective budget for the UAS institutions was set aside for competitively awarding grants of EUR 1 million per year for the creation of Centres of Expertise (see previous section).

A third revenue source for both universities and UAS consists of competitive research funds, distributed by intermediary public organisations, such as the NWO. In 2014, competitive research grants for research universities amounted to EUR 533 million. Part of the NWO budget is dedicated to support public-private partnerships in research – a policy known as the Top Sector strategy (see below). The competitive funding stream to support practice-oriented research in the UAS sector is still is relatively small at around EUR 17 million per year. A significant source of funding is the RAAK programme (Dutch for Regional Attention and Action for Knowledge Circulation). The budget for this programme is allocated through the NWO’s Taskforce for Applied Research (SIA). RAAK funding is aimed at improving knowledge exchange between SMEs and UAS and is awarded to projects that are executed by a consortium of one or more UAS, also involving vocational education and training providers and one or more businesses.

Both research universities and UAS receive a substantial part of their income from third party funding from various sources including public organisations (e.g. ministries, local authorities), non-profits (e.g. medical charities), and grants from European research programmes. Third party funds also include fees from contract teaching and from students doing non-degree programmes. In terms of contract research income, the universities are very active in generating research subsidies linked to encouraging public-private partnerships in research consortia.

In 2014, third party funds received by research universities totalled EUR 1.8 billion, whereas the UAS sector received EUR 170 million. UAS third party funding is much lower than for the research university sector, due to the modest research capacity in the former. A key component of UAS third party funds are the innovation vouchers (kennisvouchers) for SMEs to co-finance small scale research and consultancy offered by a UAS or research university. The vouchers have a value of EUR 3 750. In 2015, more than 400 vouchers were used by SMEs.

Monitoring educational quality and performance

Developments in the fields of education and science are continuously monitored. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science presents statistics on educational quality and performance through its interactive web-tool “Trends in Focus” (Dutch: Trends in Beeld). An independent Review Committee was created by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in 2011 to oversee the performance agreements between the Ministry and each HEI. These agreements were introduced partly as a result of the recommendations of the 2009 Committee on the Future Sustainability of the Dutch Higher Education System, the so-called Veerman Committee, which stated that the Dutch higher education system was not future-proof. Student drop-out was too high, students’ talents were not properly addressed and there was too little flexibility in the system to serve the various needs of students and the labour market (Veerman et al., 2010). A long-term strategy was needed to improve the quality and diversity of Dutch higher education. The Veerman Committee recommended to reduce the share of enrolment-based funding for research universities and UAS in favour of mission-based funding tied to a performance agreement, signed between each HEI and the Ministry, and overseen by an independent oversight body.

The performance agreements for the period 2012-15 were formulated in terms of quantitative indicators and qualitative ambitions chosen by the HEIs themselves, in light of the following goals:

  • Improve the quality of education and the success rate of students in universities and UAS

  • Enhance the differentiation within and between higher education institutions, encouraging them to exhibit more clear education profiles and more focused research areas (including the creation of Centres of Expertise by UAS)

  • Strengthen the focus of universities and UAS on their valorisation function (i.e. knowledge exchange, commercialisation, entrepreneurship support).

In 2017, the Review Committee concluded that some improvements had been made, in part as a result of the performance agreements (Review Committee, 2017a). Student completions in the research universities have improved since, but less so in the UAS sector. Results related to the objective of increasing differentiation and concentration were rather mixed, although the Centres of Expertise that have been created are seen as a successful initiative. In terms of valorisation, universities were able to show more clear results than the UAS sector (Review Committee, 2017b).

The evaluation of the performance agreements by an external evaluation commission (Evaluatiecommissie Prestatiebekostiging Hoger Onderwijs, 2017) highlighted the positive outcomes of the performance agreements and re-affirmed the need to incorporate some form of performance-based funding – rewarding institutions for meeting self-stated ambitions in terms of quality and differentiation.

Encouraging HEIs to strengthen their individual profiles on the basis of their strengths in education and research, and stimulating differentiation remains on the agenda. There is still a need to further increase differentiation in terms of the range of programmes offered to students (two-year associate degrees, broader bachelor programmes, research master’s, honours programmes, professional master’s programmes offered by UAS). This objective is difficult to achieve in a relatively open system of higher education with little room for entrance selection of students. This points towards the efforts increasingly made by HEIs to provide adequate information to potential students about programme content and what is expected of students that apply for a degree programme.

The new agreements have a focus on enhancing quality. This is also reflected in terminology. The new “quality agreements” are expected to ensure that the government’s savings as a result of the abolishment of the student grants in 2015 are invested in visible quality improvements of education and a further differentiation in programme offerings and modes of instruction. Another issue, also emphasised in the recent strategy document of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, is that both research universities and UAS should strengthen their connections to the outside world – in education as well as in research – and reinforce their valorisation activities (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2015).

What is still very much under debate is whether and how quality and performance are to be rewarded in the future system of quality agreements (see Box 1.1). The Review Committee concluded that a financial reward (or a penalty) should be connected to the agreement in order to underline the consequential importance, referring to the lessons learned from the earlier experience of performance agreements for the period 2008-11. During that period, the agreements were made with the higher education sector as a whole, that is, between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the HEIs’ umbrella organisations VSNU and VH, and with no financial consequences in case of failure to achieve goals. As a result, individual HEIs were not encouraged to take the agreement seriously, as consequences were minimal.

Box 1.1. Performance agreements – good practices from OECD countries

With the increasing autonomy devoted to HEIs, in many OECD countries governments have put in place new steering and accountability mechanisms. An example of these mechanisms is performance agreements between HEIs and their ministries or funding authorities.

Evidence from several OECD countries has shown that performance agreements:

  • are not solely meant to strengthen performance but also have aims such as encouraging HEIs to strategically position themselves, given their particular mission and strengths

  • can handle situations where HEIs have multiple objectives (education, research, innovation, entrepreneurship) and – within some nationally-set boundaries – can set their own targets

  • improve the strategic dialogue between the government and the HEIs

  • help to inform policy-makers and the public at large about the HEIs’ performance, thus improving accountability and transparency

  • can be used to promote horizontal collaboration between different actors.

  • The evidence also points towards the following lessons for an effective design of this type of agreement:

  • Performance agreements are taken more seriously by all parties and have greater impact if financial consequences are attached. They should include a mechanism to reward “overachievement” and not just be focused on budget cuts as a result of failure to meet indicator-based targets.

  • The nature of financial incentives must be carefully chosen. The budget linked to the agreements must be sufficiently large to have an impact, yet not so sizeable to the extent that the incentive becomes a goal in itself, or could lead to perverse effects.

  • Agreements must primarily pertain to goals and results. The indicators related to the targets should meet the requirements of validity, relevance, and reliability. Organisation-specific performance indicators can sometimes limit the scope for horizontal collaboration, with HEIs focusing solely on meeting the performance targets assigned to them.

Source: De Boer et al. (2015); Jongbloed and Vossensteyn (2016); OECD (2016a).

Quality assurance in Dutch higher education

Programme accreditation

As far as the education programmes in research universities and UAS are concerned, quality control is carried out by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science being responsible for the legal framework. The NVAO was established alongside the introduction of the Bachelor-Master system in 2005 in order to expertly and objectively assess the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and neighbouring Flanders. However, quality assessments have been in place for much longer. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to develop a formal system to assess the quality of teaching and research, on the basis of site visits by an independent committee of experts (peer review). The quality assessments were co-ordinated by the VSNU and the VH from 1986 onwards.

The process of accreditation follows the general model of four steps, universally accepted in higher education since the early 1990s and consisting of i) a self-evaluation, ii) a site visit by an external committee of (mostly) peers, iii) a public evaluation report, and iv) the national agency co-ordinating and legitimising the process. The reviews take place every six years and comprise the evaluation of, at least, the following dimensions of educational programmes: targeted end level of the education programme; content and design of the educational programme; realised end level; appropriateness of assessment, testing and examination of the students; quality and quantity of the employed staff as well as staffing policy; and programme-specific service provision as well as institution-wide provisions which affect the quality of the programme.

The accreditation framework in the Netherlands attempts to stimulate quality enhancement beyond the threshold of the “basic quality” needed to gain accreditation. Visiting committees judge each standard against a graded scale: insufficient-sufficient-good-excellent. If enough good or excellent standards are found, the programme may then be awarded a good or excellent grade of accreditation by the NVAO. In 2015, 20% of the programmes within the UAS sector received the qualification “good”, while for research universities this share was 6%.

Efforts to reduce the administrative burden of programme accreditation were heavily discussed and, in 2011, led to the introduction of an institutional audit of institution-wide quality assurance arrangements. Programme accreditation, however, is still ongoing.

If a programme is found to be of low quality, and no improvements are made over a number of years, the government reserves the right to eliminate this study programme from the official register of recognised programmes. This would imply that the programme no longer receives public funds and its students no longer qualify for student support.

In recent years, the accreditation agency has issued positive verdicts on the quality of programmes in the large majority of cases, implying that accreditation is awarded for another six years. In cases where evidence points at sub-standard quality, accreditation can be awarded for a limited period only (two years) and the programme is expected to make the necessary improvements during that period – after which it re-applies for accreditation. In 2015, the latter was the case in 3% of the programme evaluations taking place in the UAS sector, and in 11% of the cases in the research universities. This conditional accreditation usually leads to improvements and a positive accreditation. Cases where accreditation is denied are quite rare in the public sector, but do occur in the private higher education sector. In cases where an institution expects a negative outcome, it will postpone its request for accreditation.

Special quality features: internationalisation, 21st century skills and entrepreneurial education

The accreditation process allows particular aspects of programmes to be expressed in terms of distinctive profiles or special quality features. One such feature is the attention paid to internationalisation in the programme. Another special feature is the entrepreneurial character of the programme. If there is an above average focus on entrepreneurial teaching and learning, the institution seeking accreditation can request the review panel to award the special entrepreneurship label. The panel will then judge whether the particular entrepreneurship-related goals the institution has set for itself have been achieved and whether its students have gained the related knowledge, skills and attitudes. For this, the review panel makes use of a set of standard criteria. The entrepreneurship label has so far only been awarded to certain programmes of one university and one UAS.

Ensuring quality of education through teaching staff development initiatives

Essential to the quality of education is the quality of the teaching staff. In relation to this, research universities have started within their own system to develop and recognise their staff members’ didactical skills. This started with the introduction of the University Teaching Qualification (Dutch: Basiskwalificatie Onderwijs; BKO). The BKO certificate has become quite common in research universities as proof of the didactic competency of teaching staff in higher education. In 2015, more than 70% of the teaching staff in universities had a BKO compared to 19% in 2011. This was also promoted through the performance agreements as the share of staff holding a BKO was one of the mandatory indicators for which universities had to set goals to be achieved by 2016.

The next step in certifying the teaching skills of academics is the Senior Teaching Qualification (Dutch: Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs; SKO). The SKO denotes a higher level of skills in terms of curriculum development, leading change, and the systematic development and evaluation of courses. In most universities the BKO qualification is mandatory for all academics with a teaching task, while the SKO is aimed at staff that wish to take on more senior positions in educational management.

In the UAS sector, a basic qualification didactic competences label was introduced more recently; obtaining this qualification is slowly becoming standard practice in the UAS sector.

Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance

The Netherlands is currently participating in the OECD’s Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance project, part of the Enhancing Higher Education System Performance programme, which envisages identifying how well higher education systems are performing, why some systems are performing better than others and what can be drawn from this analysis to improve performance in higher education on a wider scale.

The first benchmarking exercise is ongoing (2017-2018) and it includes the participation of Belgium (Flemish Community), Estonia, Norway, and the Netherlands. A benchmarking exercise will take place every two years and the work is intended to develop in terms of breadth, scope and coverage with time, informed by a systematic stakeholder dialogue (Box 1.2).

Box 1.2. OECD’s Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance Project

Higher education has undergone profound transformations in recent decades. The move towards knowledge-based economies, the advent of modern technologies and the growing role of international markets in trade and in building competitiveness have created new conditions in which higher education operates. As a result, higher education has expanded over time, becoming more diversified, digitalised and open to a global market place. At the same time, government and other higher education stakeholders have higher expectations regarding the economic and social role of higher education. These led to calls for more accountability and better monitoring of performance.

Many countries across the OECD and worldwide face similar challenges in their higher education systems and would like to learn how well their systems perform in comparison to others. They want to better understand how to develop and maintain high quality education and research; ensure that higher education is able to respond to social and economic needs; and demonstrate that investments in higher education provide positive public and private returns. To address this interest, the OECD has launched a programme of work, Enhancing Higher Education System Performance, which envisages identifying how well higher education systems are performing, why some systems are performing better than others and what can be drawn from this analysis to improve performance in higher education on a wider scale. The programme aims to achieve these objectives through its two inter-connected strands of work: Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance, and In‐depth Analysis of Higher Education Topics.

Unlike developing rankings or setting targets for higher education, the benchmarking approach involves a comprehensive cross-country analysis of data and information covering all levels of higher education (from short-cycle to doctoral education), to enable countries to identify how well they perform compared to other countries, learn more about their strengths and weaknesses, and draw on this information to improve policy and practice in their higher education systems. The benchmarking exercise consists of a baseline analysis, which will be consistent across benchmarking exercises. The baseline analysis is designed to provide a longitudinal analysis of higher education system performance in key areas: education (learning and teaching), research and engagement; and across different stages of the transformation process from input, activity and output to outcome. The baseline accounts for the context within which higher education is shaped, including the economic and social context, the structure, governance and policy landscape surrounding higher education systems; and the financial and human resources going into the systems. In addition, the exercise provides a detailed analysis of key policy themes, which are tailored to the needs and priorities of participating countries.

Stimuli for valorisation activities and entrepreneurship support

Policy initiatives to stimulate valorisation activities and entrepreneurship support in higher education were introduced in light of the conviction that the Netherlands, despite its excellent performance in science and technology, was lagging behind in terms of using its research output for strengthening innovation and the creation of jobs. This phenomenon was also known as the knowledge paradox, that is, excellent scientific research but a low degree of utilisation by firms.

Policy initiatives to stimulate valorisation of scientific knowledge

In its 2004 Science Budget the Dutch government announced that HEIs should fulfil a “third” mission, next to education and research. This has been taken up by the research universities and the UAS first through inclusion of valorisation in strategic documents and then by specific activities and the establishment of support structures. It should be noted that “third” mission had not been absent from the Dutch higher education sector prior to this date; rather the 2004 Science Budget triggered a more institutionalised approach.

In 2009, the following sector-wide definition of valorisation was introduced (VSNU, 2013): “Valorisation is the process of creating value from knowledge by making knowledge suitable and/or available for economic and/or societal use and translating that knowledge into competitive products, services, processes and entrepreneurial activity.” The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has modified the definition slightly since then. The word “competitive” has been deleted and the emphasis has been placed more on valorisation as a process rather than the notion of a product or result (e.g. patent, license or treatment protocol). The Ministry of Economic Affairs also considers valorisation to be an important topic, and the two ministries work together in this field. Obviously, in this area the Ministry of Economic Affairs stresses the interests of Dutch commerce and industry, entrepreneurship education and public-private partnerships.

A broad conceptualisation of valorisation is very important and reflects a modern trend observed increasingly in OECD countries. It should be noted that the Netherlands has been pioneering such broader valorisation concepts (Box 1.3).

Box 1.3. Valorisation indicators: pioneering studies from the Netherlands

In 2010 the Dutch government commissioned research work to develop a list of generic indicators to measure valorisation performance. The indicators had to be applicable in a wide variety of settings, on several levels and for a variety of evaluation goals. The authors soon discovered that there was no ready-made set of indicators that matched the broad definition of valorisation. They were also critical of the use of patent counts as an indicator of valorisation, arguing that the broader societal and economic use of scientific knowledge needs to be taken into account.

Combining quantitative and qualitative indicators, the research proposed a comprehensive four-dimensional framework that could be applied in various situations, including research universities and the UAS. Furthermore, greater attention needs to be paid to the process of valorisation (viewed as a process of interaction during all stages of research rather than just the transfer of knowledge at the end of a research project) when trying to measure valorisation performance, rather than simply considering output indicators.

Since its publication in 2011, the framework has been used in a variety of ways, including for the award of competitive research funding, and has been discussed in parliament. It is credited with having moved valorisation measurement discussions away from focusing only on quantitative indicators of researcher and research organisation performance to a broader, more process-oriented approach that includes other actors as well.

Source: van Drooge et al. (2011) and OECD (2014).

Several programmes and grant schemes have been introduced to support valorisation activities involving a rich array of intermediary organisations in a more “bottom-up” style and including all key stakeholders in what can be circumscribed as the “polder model”. This is a form of consensus decision-making characterised by co-operation among parties despite significant differences and is common in Dutch policy making processes. There has been a great deal of change in Dutch innovation policy, in part as a result of the political and economic volatility of the last decade. However, there has been continuity in the objectives pursued and in the sectors singled out for special attention. For example, the sectors chosen for the Top Sectors policy (see below), have clear antecedents in sectors prioritised by earlier policy initiatives.

Valorisation Programme

In 2010, the Valorisation Programme was introduced by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs. The aim was to stimulate entrepreneurship education, screening and scouting of knowledge transfer opportunities, provide pre-seed funding and proof-of-concept funding, stimulate network creation, and initiate other activities that contribute to knowledge exchange. The Valorisation Programme supports the entire entrepreneurial pipeline, from entrepreneurship education to the incubation of new companies.

A budget of EUR 63 million supported 12 regional consortia grouped around one or more higher education institutions and led by a research university. The Valorisation Programme offers 50% co-funding for the HEIs up to a maximum of EUR 5 million. A midterm review of the programme from 2010-14 (Panteia, 2015) found that entrepreneurial education and screening activities are well under way to becoming more embedded within higher education. It is expected that the activities launched by the Valorisation Programme will continue after the government support ends in 2018.

Top Sector policy

An important revenue source for research universities in the past was the Economic Reinforcement Fund (Dutch: Fonds Economische Structuurversterking; FES). FES was a government investment programme from the 1990s to 2010, based on revenues from the large natural gas reserves owned by the Netherlands. It awarded competitive funds to strengthen research infrastructure through large-scale subsidies for consortia consisting of universities, private companies, research institutes, and other public organisations.

FES is an example of a scheme intended to prioritise research, targeted towards research in a selected number of priority fields – areas of strategic interest for Dutch industry and society. The government decided that such a prioritisation policy would contribute to the creation of “focus and mass” in research (Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2004). It was argued that the creation of focus and mass in the research capacity of selected key areas was necessary to maintain a strong and internationally competitive position. The key areas selected were: flowers and food, high-tech systems and materials, water, chemistry, creative industries, and pensions and insurance. They were chosen for their perceived strategic importance in terms of growth opportunities and relevance to societal challenges.

Although the prioritisation strategy has sometimes been questioned, it still is very much alive today. An example is the Top Sector policy introduced in 2011 as an approach to focus science and technology policies on nine key sectors: agro-food; horticulture and propagating stock; high-technology materials and systems; energy; logistics; creative industries; life sciences and health; chemicals; and water. The selection of these sectors was based on a combination of the intensity of the R&D taking place in the sector and its export performance.

A point of critique is that the Top Sector policy focuses on existing sectors and thus does not provide for the exploration of new niches. In response to this, three cross-cutting themes were introduced: ICT, bio-based economy, and nanotechnology and so-called Top Consortia for Knowledge and Innovation (TKIs) were defined and allocated specific funding from the NWO. Also, a sectoral human capital agenda was drawn up, highlighting the expected and preferred skill profiles in each of the nine sectors. This includes objectives on the quality and quantity of higher and vocational education, stressing the importance of skill development and lifelong learning. Another point of criticism is that SMEs are still under-represented within the Top Sectors.

The National Science Agenda

To enhance greater synergy between science and education across the country’s higher education and research sector, the government came forward with the Science Vision 2025 – Choices for the Future (in Dutch: Wetenschapsvisie 2025), commonly referred to as the National Science Agenda. It was drawn up by a knowledge coalition including all key stakeholders (Kenniscoalitie, 2015). A large number of stakeholders, ranging from science to the business community and civil society organisations were invited to send in their suggestions for scientific issues and questions to be included in this agenda. The questions were inspired by scientific curiosity as well as a desire to address big societal challenges and economic opportunities. In total, 11 700 questions were submitted. The questions were condensed into themes and a total of 140 broad scientific questions were identified. The government has stated its goal to make the National Science Agenda a leading instrument in the award of funds for science supporting scientific breakthroughs.

The members of the knowledge coalition took the release of the National Science Agenda as a starting point for defining a number of “routes” (25 in total), and suggested ways in which these routes could be shaped to advance not just science in general but the Netherlands in particular. This is expected to lead to a number of thematic priorities for science. The representatives of the business sector suggested focusing on themes cross-cutting the top sectors that had been defined earlier as the focus areas for the Netherlands. Their focus is on smart cities, circular economy, smart industry, sustainable food production, and energy transition.

The knowledge coalition and other stakeholders have called on the government to provide extra budgets for science and to implement the agenda. An amount of EUR 1 billion was requested, to be spent on strengthening science. So far, the government has provided EUR 32 million to the NWO to stimulate research on three issues: youth, digital society, and natural science. Furthermore, an amount of EUR 5 million was allocated to be spent on talent development policies. This extra investment is also intended as an experiment to investigate how the National Science Agenda could function in practice and how its further implementation should take place.

A crucial element in the National Science Agenda is its attention to collaboration – in terms of public-private partnerships as well as in terms of cross-disciplinary research – and its focus on societal challenges. Concerns are expressed regarding the situation of individual disciplines (e.g. humanities, mathematics, law) and the support of individual researchers. Another issue is the need to match funds when undertaking large projects in public-private research consortia. With more resources becoming available for projects, some fear that less is left for individuals undertaking curiosity-based research.

Valorisation indicators

Over the years, potential indicators for monitoring valorisation have been proposed by several agencies (e.g. Van Drooge et al., 2011). In 2012, when all Dutch HEIs were preparing individual performance agreements with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science for the first time, the Review Committee invited the HEIs to make use of indicators to illustrate their ambitions with respect to valorisation. Some HEIs responded to this request and agreed to include a number of indicators in their performance agreement as well as in the reports they publish each year to report on their overall activity.

However, so far, a commonly defined set of indicators used by every HEI is not in place. Each HEI reports on valorisation through a combination of indicators and qualitative statements (i.e. narratives). Measurement indicators very much differ between HEIs, reflecting the different institutional missions.

At the conclusion of the last round of performance agreements in 2016, the Review Committee concluded that valorisation is an integral part of the activity portfolios of the universities and UAS (Review Committee, 2017b). Both types of institutions have worked actively on the dissemination of knowledge to societal parties – each in their own way. In the UAS sector, important roles are played by lectors, Centres of Expertise and other knowledge centres. In particular, the Centres of Expertise (that were an integral part of the agreements of the UAS) were evaluated favourably by the Review Committee. While quantitative information on the Centres is still scarce, they are starting to play an important role in improving education and in boosting the regional innovation system.

Research universities have already worked for a longer time with third parties in co‐producing knowledge and exchanging their knowledge in the (regional, national, international) networks they are part of. However, the valorisation indicators that research universities included in their performance agreements only properly started appearing in the universities’ annual reports towards the end of the performance agreements – that is in 2016. The Review Committee praised the research universities for collectively producing a website (Valorisatie in Beeld, maintained by their umbrella organisation VSNU) featuring a diverse array of indicators and narratives for each university. However, the Review Committee concluded that the UAS sector has made less progress in publishing indicators (Review Committee, 2017b). Instead, the UASs mostly present narratives in their annual reports when it comes to valorisation.

In going forward, the idea was that at the completion of the performance agreements in 2016 an agreed set of well-tested indicators was to be presented and to be used by the HEIs for their annual reporting and – possibly – for the new round of quality agreements. The government has recognised that presenting a consistent national picture of value creation activities and results is difficult because every higher education institution is using its own indicators (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 2017). While the VSNU initiative Valorisatie in Beeld is a good start to document engagement and value creation activities, it is not sufficient to present a consistent national picture of processes, activities and impact.

Since every HEI uses its own indicators, it is impossible to compare results and monitor progress nationally. Therefore, a call was made to the Academy of Sciences to propose methods to make value creation activity more transparent and to propose indicators that capture the broader quality and impact of research. So far, only the research universities, (not the UAS), have been asked to prepare a proposal for a common set of indicators of value creation to be used by all research universities.

It should be mentioned here that in many OECD countries finding the “right” set of indicators to monitor value creation is an open issue, given the broad range of activities that go under this label. Valorisation takes place at many different stages of research and education, and often in synergy with one or the other. It is therefore important to acknowledge diversity in any attempt to define metrics.

Policy initiatives to support entrepreneurship in and through higher education

Since 2000, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have supported the introduction of entrepreneurship education across all levels of formal education. In higher education one of the first programmes was the Action Programme TechnoPartner, which started in 2004. The aim was to strengthen the entrepreneurial climate in the Netherlands and to encourage “technostarters”, that is, high-tech startups either from within or outside HEIs. A subsequent initiative was the Education and Enterprise Action Programme (Dutch: Actieprogrammema Onderwijs en Ondernemen) implemented by the Ministry of Economic Affairs from 2007 to 2011. Entrepreneurial education is, in most cases, an interdisciplinary activity involving collaboration between and across specialised disciplines. One of the achievements of this programme was the establishment of Centres of Entrepreneurship. There are six regional Centres of Entrepreneurship, with a total of sixteen HEIs involved: eight universities and eight UAS. An evaluation of six Centres of Entrepreneurship in 2012 found that since 2007 the number of students interested in entrepreneurship and starting their own company has grown; this holds in particular for graduates from the UAS (Van der Steen et al., 2012). A study by Ecorys from the same year found that more students were seeking to gain ECTS in entrepreneurship (in the UAS: 64% in 2012 compared to 50% in 2010) (Van der Aa, 2012). University-business collaboration also increased and the business community has started playing a greater role in defining the content and organisation of entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship is, to some extent, part of a teacher’s competence profile in many UAS.

These and other related policy initiatives were integrated in 2010 into the above described Valorisation Programme. Results have been positive. Entrepreneurship has become more deeply enshrined in higher education and is part of the curriculum offered by a growing number of HEIs. The number of HEIs that included entrepreneurship in their mission statement has also increased. Lecturers, researchers and PhD candidates can participate in courses and startup training sessions. More students are behaving in entrepreneurial ways, are positive about entrepreneurship, and are setting up their own businesses within five years of graduation (ECE, 2014). The annual monitoring reports for the performance (and now quality) agreements have also confirmed this (Review Committee, 2017a).

Most research universities have established incubators and centres of technology transfer. One of the financial instruments aimed at encouraging research universities to commercialise their discoveries is the Open Technology Programme (OTP) of the Technology Foundation (Dutch: Stichting Technische Wetenschappen; STW). The OTP programme financially supports high-quality university research projects with high user involvement and a high propensity for utilisation. It is a competitive programme, which does not prescribe which research themes can receive funding. Projects last between three and six years and require co-funding by third parties. In 2016, the OTP had a budget of some EUR 18 million. In 2015, around 30% of the applications were successful.

A recent report on academic startups concludes that these centres and incubators are doing a good job and that universities have invested a lot in entrepreneurship support. Nevertheless, some of the obstacles noted are the large transaction costs due to negotiations on intellectual property and a lack of entrepreneurial skills of graduates and academics. Furthermore, some of these support infrastructures lack professional expertise and/or are too oriented towards technical disciplines and medical fields (Technopolis, 2015).

A recent national programme with a lot of potential to support business start-ups from HEIs in the Netherlands is the Ambitious Entrepreneurship Action Plan, initiated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2014, with an indicative budget of EUR 75 million. Key action areas are i) funding for early-stage proof-of-concept ii) funding for innovative technology development projects involving business and knowledge partners from at least two different European countries (“Eurostars projects”), iii) strengthening the international position of start-ups and growing businesses, and iv) providing temporary residence permits for non-EU entrepreneurs to start a business in the Netherlands.

In 2015, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched the Take-off programme for supporting academic startups. The programme provides loans to high-tech entrepreneurs to carry out a feasibility study to explore the commercial potential of an invention. 13 regional innovation hubs were selected in order to integrate and scale up various activities. The hubs focus on areas like smart food, gaming, health technology, bioscience, nanotechnology, sharing economy, big data and photonics. The hubs act as one single organisation in a region, similar to the initiatives supported by the Valorisation Programme described earlier. In addition to this, a large national initiative, known as StartupDelta was launched to accelerate the startup ecosystem of the Netherlands. These initiatives are further discussed in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 and Chapter 6.


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← 1. GUESSS (Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students’ Survey) is a global survey on students’ entrepreneurial intentions and activities immediately after graduation and five years afterwards. It began in 2003 and is run by the Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Gallen. In the 2016 edition, 122 509 students responded from 1 082 HEIs in more than 50 countries.

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