Faculties grapple with starter grants: share fairly, or do as the minister says?
According to the university, not only new assistant professors should benefit from Minister Dijkgraaf’s starter grants. The faculties intend to make wider use of the money.
Vincent Bongers, Sebastiaan van Loosbroek en Susan Wichgers
Wednesday 21 December 2022

The Ministry of Education’s starter grants of around 300,000 euros for starting assistant professors (UDs) are stirring up a lot of fuss at the faculties. Minister Dijkgraaf wants the money to go to individuals. The Executive Board and some of the faculties believe that more researchers should benefit from the capital injection.

‘The faculty receives an annual sum of 2.4 million euros in starter grants’, said Stefaan Van den Bogaert of the Law Faculty Board during the Faculty Council meeting. ‘Each grant is worth 270,000 euros. But 30,000 euros is deducted for costs incurred by the faculty and the university.’ So in effect, the UD receives a grant of 240,000 euros. However, the Board has decided to allocate this money ‘in a smart, solidary and fair way’, said Van den Bogaert. ‘We want to avoid a situation where the grants create a dichotomy between haves and have-nots within the faculty.’


So the Faculty of Law is taking a so-called “team science” approach. ‘The idea is for new UDs to apply for the grant together with UDs who have been employed longer. That way, not only the new staff members will benefit from the funding.’

Dean of the Faculty of Humanities Mark Rutgers would also like to see that, as he told the Faculty Council last week. ‘If we’re given the room for it, team science is the best option.’ The faculties of Archaeology, Science and Social and Behavioural Sciences also previously expressed their desire to allow as many staff members as possible to benefit from the grants.

'We want to avoid a dichotomy between haves and have-nots within the faculty'

The topic of the grants also came up during the FGGA Faculty Council meeting on Tuesday. ‘Anyone entitled to a starter grant can submit a proposal’, said Director of Operational Management Niels Laurens. ‘We’ve put together a committee in which all the institutes are represented. This committee will consider the proposals and the criteria which they are scored against. The ones that are ranked highest will receive the grant.’

Faculty Council member Elena Bondarouk suggested splitting the money into several smaller funds so more people can benefit. ‘That way, there is less competition.’ Laurens: ‘That’s the reason why you should have a co-applicant. That is how we ensure that the grant benefits multiple people. And this has to be discussed with the Programme Director. Or else you’ll end up with a situation where people are going to say: I don’t have to teach, deal with it.’


In addition to the starter grants, there are also incentive grants for more experienced researchers. The total amount of these grants is roughly the same as the one for the starter grants. It is unclear what criteria apply to the distribution of these grants, said Van den Bogaert during the Law Faculty Council meeting. ‘The ministry is late in establishing the rules, but it has more or less indicated that for the first year, we have to figure things out ourselves. Our plan is to eventually distribute that money among all senior researchers.’

According to Van den Bogaert, some of the money will already be allocated to the faculty this year. ‘We’re probably talking about 900.000 euros, which we would like to use for UDs who were appointed before 1 January 2022, but are not paired up with a UD for a starter grant.’

FGGA is going to convert the incentive grants into PhD fellowships because the amount is so small that the success rate of an application would be too low, Laurens explained. ‘This means that every institute will get a number of PhD candidates who will be able to teach half of their time for six years. They can teach wherever the workload is high. That way, we can still use these resources to address the workload.’

It is not the case, by the way, that the university can decide all this for itself. The ministry has in fact set up an advisory committee, including Leiden professors Remco Breuker (Korea studies) and Pancras Hogendoorn (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine), dedicated to the starter and incentive grants. Among other things, this committee will examine whether universities can be given more leeway to distribute the grants in a manner that suits them.

The University Council meeting also briefly touched upon the topic of the starter grants. One of the initial conditions for the grants was that recipients would not apply for grants from grant provider Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research during its duration. However, the Board has received signals that this condition will be removed. Especially PhD candidates in the sciences object to this regulation because they compete for grants that are higher than the starter grant.