Column

Plumbers

Vice-president Ineke Sluiter

How can we keep our research system future-proof? How can we ensure in a responsible manner that a new generation of young researchers have a future in the world of science and research? These are the main questions to be dealt with by the Academy’s Board in the coming years.

However, those questions involve all kinds of associated subjects: open access to scientific publications, the interdependence of education and research, valuation and reward, strengthening scientific sectors, promoting interdisciplinarity… to name but a few. Of course, the success of our research system also depends on healthy finances. It is for good reason that the Knowledge Coalition has argued for a substantially higher level of investment in our knowledge economy.

But just injecting cash is not the sole solution. As we all know, research is also subject to heavy regulatory pressure, which often leads to inefficient use of funds. Money leaks out of the system through illogical constructions and rules that operate at the expense of what is really at stake: top-class research for the benefit of science, education, and society. To take one example: everyone knows that one of the major strengths of Dutch research is collaboration. But when collaboration involves lending out researchers, expertise, instruments, or research resources it is subject to a 'fine' of 21%. That’s because the universities then have to charge one another VAT at a rate of 21%, something that isn’t necessary for similar constructions in the education sector. The choice that researchers and institutions then face is often a difficult one: either the research becomes a bit more than a fifth more expensive than necessary; or we come up with work-arounds, i.e. time-consuming constructions each of which requires individual approval from the Tax and Customs Administration; or we forget about the collaboration. And the problem is the same at European level.

Together with partners within the Knowledge Coalition, the Academy’s Board is setting up a 'Plumbers Brigade' to actively help to plug these kinds of leaks within the system. We will try to get this issue on the EU’s agenda, because it’s EU rules that prohibit a zero rate of VAT or an exemption. But that doesn’t mean that – working with our knowledge partners – we can’t encourage the government to take immediate action to find a quick solution to this problem in our own country.

If you know of more examples of money-guzzling rules that stand in the way of efficient and effective scientific endeavour, then let us know about them by emailing the Plumbers Brigade at .

Kind regards from the Plumbers Brigade, ☺

Ineke Sluiter