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Transparency in research funding leads to greater academic freedom

June 20, 2023

Research is about more than answering only the most pressing questions, but the current funding model in fact channels more and more funding to such questions. This is detrimental to broader long-term research and, ultimately, to the structure of Dutch science.

The Young Academy has called for 'intellectual audits' to increase transparency and for guidelines governing responsible research funding.

There has been a huge increase in external research funding in the Dutch research landscape in recent decades. This has shifted the focus to research that delivers quick results for government and industry. But science also has another task: to generate new research questions and to anticipate tomorrow's issues. This task and, consequently, positive academic freedom – the freedom of researchers to choose what research they undertake and for what purpose – are under threat, according to The Young Academy in its report Space to Think. An analysis of structural threats to academic freedom and integrity.

According to The Young Academy, we currently know very little about the scale of external funding flows in Dutch academia and their impact on disciplines and research groups, making it impossible to develop informed policies. Public knowledge institutions play a major role in ensuring the right balance between fundamental, curiosity-driven and problem-solving research. That role also involves creating, shaping and monitoring positive academic freedom. The Young Academy has made two recommendations for public knowledge institutions and policymakers:

1. Create more transparency by conducting ‘intellectual audits’. While financial activities in general are audited, these audits do not look specifically at external funding flows. Intellectual audits would

  • provide insight into the national funding landscape;
  • allow institutions to account for their policies and practices;
  • make funding choices and their effects visible to researchers and policymakers.

2. Develop guidelines for responsible research funding analogous to the guidelines established for responsible research.

This would allow public research institutions to assess whether their funding policy and practices are in line with their public duties, and to check for undesirable inequalities in funding between faculties, disciplines, research areas or types of research.

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Download the report Space to Think. An analysis of structural threats to academic freedom and integrity.

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