Flemish researchers sound alarm over funding

Region risks ‘falling hopelessly behind’ unless financial gap is plugged, say academics

November 16, 2016
Sending smoke signals
Source: Getty

Almost 6,000 researchers have signed a petition calling for a Belgian funder to take urgent action on a budget deficit for fundamental science.

The “Flemish knowledge society is under serious threat” as success rates reach “disaster” point at the Foundation for Scientific Research (FWO), they say.

The group add that they have been forced to issue a “distress call” because of the “dire situation” they are in and that the region risks losing its top researchers.

The FWO funds fundamental and strategic research in the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgium known as Flanders.

“The [FWO] is facing a structural funding gap for financing fundamental scientific research…If urgent action is not taken, Flanders risks falling hopelessly behind, with a reduction in our knowledge potential as a consequence,” say the group in the petition.

The “low budget” of the FWO means that it is “often unable to finance awarded research projects in their entirety”, they add.

“Drastic budget cuts to estimated costs for the majority of projects are a considerable obstacle to the prospective research, with the result that Flemish scientists frequently have to make do with a budget that is half that of their colleagues in other countries,” say the researchers.

“In this climate, staying in Flanders is no longer an attractive option for our top Flemish scientists,” they say in the petition.

They add that the number of project applications made to the FWO in 2015 is double that of 10 years ago but that budgets have not significantly increased over the period.

The chance of securing funding for research projects and individual research scholarships is down to a “historic low” of 15 per cent, according to the petition.

“The situation is now a disaster,” they say, adding that it is demotivating for applicants and reviewers. “The current system is a textbook example of bad time management. Applicants invest several weeks in writing projects that have little chance of being funded,” they say.

They add that, ideally, success rates should be 33 per cent to allow for a “sufficiently rigorous selection process, while not discouraging applicants”.

The FWO did not respond to requests for comment in time for Times Higher Education's deadline.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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