Paul van Gerven
12 June

The Dutch government should encourage universities and universities of applied sciences to specialize in order to better serve society’s needs, writes the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) in a publication presented Wednesday. “Individual institutions are often focused primarily on their own activities and priorities and concern themselves too little with overarching societal interests. Competition for market share and research funding, differences in culture as well as different rules for universities and for universities of applied sciences make mutual collaboration difficult, in turn rendering the functioning of the system as a whole both ineffectual and inefficient,” states the report.

In research, institutions over the past years endeavored to cover as much ground as possible, mostly because of the way research funding is awarded. This leads to unnecessary competition, contends the AWTI, as well as to an exodus of top-class researchers who eventually move to specialized institutions abroad. In education, lack of coordination among institutions is causing a mismatch between skills of graduates and the labor market, ie a shortage of STEM graduates and a surplus of graduates in language, culture, behavioral and social sciences.

The AWTI recommends restricting the freedom of movement of higher education organizations: they should specialize to better serve the needs of society and the economy. ‘Profile-dependent’ funding should be introduced and the establishment of a ‘system authority’ to monitor adherence to public causes should be considered. Universities should be allowed more scope for selecting students, as the students’ choice of study programs affects the deployment of research capacity. Thus, better control and steering of student intake will enable higher education institutions to meet the demand for specific subject areas and disciplines more effectively.

ATWI’s ‘Shaking-up the system’ follows another recent report recommending to overhaul higher education funding to address the shortage of STEM graduates.