Paul Schnabel: ‘Standing firm on investments, and even more innovation.’
‘Investment in innovation, a more flexible employment market and much less bureaucracy. This is what the Netherlands needs if we want to be among the world’s top five knowledge economies.’ These were the words of Paul Schnabel, Director of the Netherlands Institute for Social Research, at the opening of the Leiden University academic year. And according to Maxime Verhagen, we already have everything we need to reach the top.
The Netherlands is in seventh place in the world ranking of knowledge economies, according to the Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum. The top five are Switzerland in first position, just ahead of Singapore, Sweden, Finland and the United States. Germany is in sixth position.
Schnabel addressed in particular the low level of investment in research and development in the Netherlands. ‘Sweden, for example, invests 4% of GDP, while in the Netherlands this figure has shrunk to 1.7%. To climb higher in the ranking, we need to make a double investment: firstly, to maintain our present position, because other universities are close on our heels, and, secondly to achieve a higher position in the ranking.’ The question is whether we will manage this. Schnabel firmly advocated higher investments (‘in time 20 billion euro’) and ‘standing firm’ on what has been agreed. By ‘standing firm’, he was referring to the example set by Germany (6th in the ranking): agreeing a level of investment and standing firm on it, not constantly making adjustments.
Outgoing Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, Maxime Verhagen, gave his view: ‘In the past two years, I have enjoyed the creativity, the enthusiasm and the innovative capacity of the entrepreneurs and researchers in the Top Sectors. We have all we need to be among the world’s top five most innovative knowledge economies. In the Top Consortia for Knowledge and Innovation, entrepreneurs and scientists together decide what they want to research. And when businesses invest in the research carried out at a particular consortium, with effect from 1 October the government will add 25 per cent on top of the investment. In fact, the government will contribute as much as 40% on top of the first 20,000 euro. This represents a real benefit for the universities.’
Paul van der Heijden, Rector Magnificus and President of the Executive Board, talked about Making choices, sharing decisions. Leiden University has opted for growth (up from 7.5 to 9% market share!) and for new teaching programmes. We are also focusing on study success, which is a reason to raise the norm for the Binding Study Advice. Knowledge is shared in our multidisciplinary research focus areas, and sharing is also a feature of LDE, the collaboration between Leiden University, the Technical University Delft and Erasmus University Rotterdam. Besides the existing Medical Delta, a further four joint science centres will be created as part of this collaboration: a Centre for Sustainability, a Centre for Governance, a Centre for Education and Learning and a Centre for Heritage.
Following the speeches, two special prizes were awarded: firstly, the K.J. Cath Prize to Maartje van den Heuvel of the University Library, and secondly the Gratama Science Prize to Anton Akhmerov of the Science Faculty.
(3 September 2012)