Minister considers money to support 'recognition and rewards'

Robbert Dijkgraaf last month at the university of applied sciences in The Hague. Photo shared by Robbert Dijkgraaf himself on his Twitter account.

Dijkgraaf's lecture drew made news because of his appeal for politicians to protect scientists. "We cannot accept that conducting research can lead to someone being threatened", he stated. 

But he did not stop there. The minister also wondered why some people distrust science and reject something that can be lifesaving, referring to the coronavirus vaccine. In his opinion, scientists ought to be more communicative in order to reduce the distance between science and society. 

In fact, he believes they are already doing so. “More and more, scientists are regarding public engagement as a matter of course”, Dijkgraaf said in his address. “Young scientists, in particular, are finding creative ways of reaching a new public.” 

Science can defend us against future threats, he contended. “Whether it’s the climate, the environment, nature, housing, healthcare, work or equal opportunities… For each challenge that faces us, society needs to build on the latest research, the newest insights, the most reliable data, the smartest analyses.” 

After the lecture, the minister spoke to journalists, including higher education press agency HOP, which asked him whether topics such as national security, pandemics and other threats are going to be prioritised in the government's investments in science. 

“No” was his immediate answer. “One of the great things about science is that it is very dynamic. Scientists learn from one another about what is interesting and what is less interesting. One of my main tasks is to foster science across the board.” 

The minister does refer, however, to the arrangements made in the coalition agreement about a climate fund and a growth fund for the economy and innovations. “In my portfolio, the Education, Culture and Science portfolio, I have to look in the first instance at science across the board.” 

Securing knowledge 
But the aforementioned topics are of concern to him. “How do we make science accessible for the general public? How do we secure that knowledge? Those are major issues, in my view. If all goes to plan, we will step things up in the years ahead. So it would be great if we could put some of those topics into the mix as well.” 

This is part and parcel of the pursuit of "recognition and rewards", the minister confirms. Scientists must get the opportunity to work on tasks other than research, such as teaching or propagating their knowledge in society.  

Dijkgraaf is in favour of such a development. Asked whether there are no financial consequences attached to "recognition and rewards", he says: “I don’t think about financial consequences, but I certainly want to discuss matters with higher education institutions and research institutes. We have a wide range of tasks. How can you ensure that young workers who would like to focus on one of those tasks get the opportunity to do so?” 

Some institutions are more likely to be pro-active in that respect than others. Is the minister going to provide some money for that? Dijkgraaf hesitates. “Well… I still have to verify exactly how I’m going to do it but I would really like to reach an understanding with the entire academic field. How can we tackle these issues together? I honestly think – and I can see – that universities want that too. They recognise that a modern university does a lot more than just research.” 

Carrot or stick? 
So will there be a financial big stick? Dijkgraaf smiles: “I have always been a believer in the carrot rather than the stick.” In other words, encouraging things that are going well rather than penalising what is not. It remains to be seen how he will structure it and how much money will be involved.