Researcher-driven science

Position Paper | Year 2018
Researcher-driven science: analysis of the situation in Flanders
Class of Natural Sciences
The pioneering research carried out by academics is essential for the welfare and well-being of our society, for the training of our future intelligentsia and knowledge workers, as the first crucial link in the innovation chain, for the knowledge expansion necessary for dealing with global societal challenges and for our cultural enhancement. Research is not only a goal in itself; it is also a means of providing graduates with the necessary skills for tackling the future.
This research may arise from the curiosity of the academic, from his or her urge to get to the bottom of a particular societal problem, or from a combination of the two. One positive outcome of the competitive funding model is that virtually all academic research in Flanders is high level; it also offers a solid foundation for industrial partnerships and valorisation. In this respect, universities are the growth engines of a modern economy because they develop ideas and knowledge for future societies, and also because they train new generations of students to be the leaders of tomorrow’s knowledge economy. For this to work, there must be a strong link between education and research, beginning in the Bachelor phase. Moreover, the organisation of the university must be flexible enough to coordinate all these tasks.
The government plays a crucial role in the funding of this ground-breaking fundamental research. An essential cornerstone for this is the first-flow funding for the basic financing of the universities. According to the Times Higher Education Ranking of the top 1000 universities in the world, the student/staff ratio of Flemish universities is almost twice as high as that of Dutch universities and five times higher than the top universities worldwide. Furthermore, a recent OECD report shows that the funding of our universities only hovers around the European average. On top of that, it seems to have been forgotten that the source from which industrial research and research in the Strategic Research Centres (SOCs) flows is in danger of drying up, something that would be disastrous for the entire research and innovation chain. Based on the Standpunt's conclusions, various recommendations are outlined to the government in 8.2.
Both the first-flow funding and the BOF credits of the second-flow funding are divided between the universities according to performance criteria within a closed total budget. This has resulted in unhealthy competition, especially in universities where these parameters have been extended to the individual researcher. The professor, a central figure in education and research, is currently under enormous pressure: not only because of the constant quest for research funds, but more importantly because of the increase in guidelines, reporting and monitoring levels within the university. Furthermore, there is no time left for debating with students in the style of a real “Socratic tutor".
An increase in first-flow funding would allow universities to expand the ZAP base, to develop an ATP middle management level of doctorates to support the ZAP in education and research, to provide start-up credits and sabbatical leave, and minimal basic funding for every professor. The universities must increase researcher confidence and boost the amount of “quality time” for education and research by simplifying the rules and the number of monitoring levels. These conclusions are outlined in 8.3 in recommendations to the universities.
FWO funding (second-flow funding) is allocated on the basis of competition and scientific excellence. It is vital that this competition is fair and equitable. The Standpunt argues for an increase in and better distribution of the funds from the second-flow funding. The strengths and weaknesses of various financing models, with or without a committee, are discussed in an accompanying SWOT analysis. The ERC (European Research Council) is proposed as a model for the FWO. The Standpunt formulates in 8.4 practical proposals for an equitable distribution of the funds among researchers at all stages of their career, with the aim of creating a careful balance between the principles of “funding top research” and “equal opportunities for equal quality”, regardless of the discipline and the institution.

Available documents


  • Dirk Van Dyck
  • Elisabeth Monard
  • Sylvia Wenmackers
  • Joos Vandewalle
  • Alexander Sevrin
  • Liliane Schoofs