University adjusts VIDI pilot
Radboud University has introduced an exemption to its new VIDI policy. Originally, all grant applicants had to be hired permanently as soon as they applied, but the university has relaxed its stance. Researchers for whom this year offers the last opportunity to apply for a VIDI grant may do so without immediately being offered a permanent position.
Before the summer, Radboud University launched a pilot: henceforth all researchers applying for a VIDI grant had to offered a permanent contract, irrespective of whether they obtained the grant. The Executive Board introduced this measure as part of its efforts to hire more academic staff on a permanent basis. The intention was to go one step further than the NWO research council, which introduced a new policy this spring, such that from now on any researcher who is awarded an NWO grant must be offered a permanent position at their university.
‘Our Institute is simply sitting out this year’s pilot’
However, the ‘more generous’ Nijmegen measures led to unrest among young researchers and research institutes. Researchers feared that faculties would be much more stringent in their selection of applicants to supports, since applying now meant hiring, and many institutes felt they lacked the needed funds. These fears were partially justified. “Our Institute is simply sitting out this year’s pilot,” says a young researcher who due to his vulnerable position wishes to remain anonymous. His application will not be submitted. VOX spoke to a number of researchers who’d had similar experiences. They in principle appreciate the Executive Board’s efforts to curb the current ‘culture of temporary contracts’, but they think the pilot has “some disastrous effects”. They hope the Executive Board will discontinue the new measure once the pilot is over and are looking into the possibility of submitting their proposal via a different university next year.
The Executive Board has announced its intention to exempt researchers for whom this year is the last opportunity to submit a VIDI application. Researchers must apply for the VIDI within eight years of obtaining their doctorate.
The Executive Board has decided to introduce this exemption because some institutes had already approved researchers submitting a proposal before the Board introduced its new VIDI regulations, says spokesman Martijn Gerritsen, explaining the change in policy. All ‘last chancers’ are exempted from this year’s pilot. This applies to “all faculties and institutes within the university,” says Gerritsen. The researchers concerned only need to be offered a permanent contract once they are awarded a grant – the NWO requirement as of this year.
The ‘exempted’ researchers are happy with the loosened policy. “In the spring I was told the odds were very, very low that I would be allowed to apply, but I recently got the go ahead,” says Branka Milivojevic (38), postdoc at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging.
Pilot is no failure
Research institutes feel they have too little time to process all the new regulations, as apparent from a brief survey by VOX. The new VIDI requirements were announced this spring, only to be followed immediately by the Radboud University pilot. All this also coincided with the introduction of the new Collective Labour Agreement (CAO). Peter Hagoort, Director of the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging: “These measures are all interrelated, which makes it difficult to oversee the financial consequences.”
In response, the Donders Institute has spent the last months in dialogue with both the Executive Board and the NWO. The lightening of the pilot rules seems to be one of the concrete results of these negotiations. Incidentally, university spokesman Martijn Gerritsen doesn’t consider the pilot a failure: “Its scope has simply been reduced.” We need to wait until after the evaluation at the end of the June application round to decide whether the pilot was a success, he says.
A VIDI is a prestigious, individual NWO grant. Researchers can use the € 800,000 grant to start their own research group. As of this year, NWO is setting stricter requirements for VENI and VIDI grants. Institutions have to provide applicants with an ‘embedding guarantee’, i.e. guarantee that the researcher will be offered a tenure track or permanent contract if they obtain the grant. NWO’s goal is to lower application pressure on its grants and increase acceptance rate. Currently, acceptance rate is often below 15%. In the last application round, Radboud University, Radboud university medical center and the Max Planck Institute obtained a record number of 14 VIDI grants. This placed Nijmegen above average among Dutch universities. Eight of the grant winners are affiliated with the Donders Institute.