No brain drain as yet, but more brain circulation

2 February 2018

About as many researchers come to the Netherlands as leave it. There has been an increase in both groups in recent years, however. These are some of the findings of the report De aantrekkelijkheid van Nederland als onderzoeksland (The Netherlands’ appeal as a research hub), published on 29 January 2018 by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.


The report sounds the alarm about declining research budgets and restrictions on how researchers can spend their funding. It also advises Dutch universities and research institutes to position themselves internationally as a group.

An advisory committee chaired by sociologist Tanja van der Lippe (Utrecht University) studied internationalisation trends among academic staff in de Netherlands over the past decade, looking specifically at statistics on assistant, associate and full professors. The committee also interviewed 39 Dutch and foreign researchers and organised a workshop for university rectors and deans and the directors of research institutes. It compared these figures with similar statistics on China, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Sweden.

High marks for VIDI and VICI grants

The Netherlands gets high marks for research quality, research infrastructure, work/life balance, and the quality of primary and secondary education. NWO’s VIDI and VICI grants are highly prized, with ninety percent of the researchers awarded a VIDI or VICI grant remaining in the Netherlands. Scores are lower when it comes to the availability of budgets for curiosity-driven research, long-term funding, and diversity.

Inflow and outflow still even

As it turns out, the worrisome reports circulating in the media and at universities that top researchers are leaving the Netherlands en masse do not tell the whole truth. The Netherlands also welcomes many top foreign researchers, and Dutch researchers return to the Netherlands after spending time abroad. Researcher inflow and outflow and researcher quality have thus remained more or less in balance so far. There is a danger of brain drain in the future, however, owing to declining research budgets for curiosity-driven research and less long-term funding.

Recommendation: invest and promote

The report makes a number of recommendations. The first is that the Netherlands must continue to invest in researchers in the long term. The second is that the Netherlands should do more to promote itself by emphasising the close proximity and cooperation between academic institutions and the short travel times between them. The Netherlands is one big university, as it were: The University of the Netherlands. Dutch universities could, for example, develop a joint diversity policy and show that they appreciate people for their differences.

Follow-up: seminar in Amsterdam

The report will be presented on 15 February 2018. A seminar has been organised in Amsterdam’s Zuiderkerk to mark the occasion. It will address how the Netherlands can remain appealing to researchers and benefit from the strengths of its science system. The seminar participants, including Stan Gielen (president of NWO), Pieter Duisenberg (president of VSNU) and Martin Paul (president of Maastricht University), will share their views on the Academy advisory report.