The annual RIO Country Report offers an analysis of the R&I system in the Netherlands, including relevant policies and funding, with particular focus on topics critical for EU policies. The report identifies the main challenges of the Dutch research and innovation system and assesses the policy response.
One of the key challenges of the Netherlands is to valorise the excellent knowledge it is producing. The indicators in the Innovation Union Scoreboard point at the contrast between the quality of the research system, resulting in relatively many (highly cited) publications and doctorate graduates, versus a modest performance on the account of innovation outputs . A common explanation is found in the business expenditures on R&D, which lags behind the EU average as discussed in the next challenge. Dutch universities do already have strong links with parts of the business sector, as reflected in a comparatively high share of industry funding for university research and the high rate of co-publication. However, SMEs in certain sectors of the economy collaborate less with universities than in other advanced economies.
The necessity to improve the role of firms in diffusing and applying public knowledge is one of the drivers behind the R&I strategy of the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Education, Culture and Science: the Enterprise Policy. Over 2011, several top teams (constituted by representatives from the industry, research institutes and government) identified nine top sectors reflecting unique strengths of the Dutch economy. In order to carry out basic and applied research in the top sectors, 19 consortia have been established (12 from 2016 onwards). In these so-called Top consortia for Knowledge and Innovation (TKIs) many existing research initiatives are being put together. An essential element is that research is conducted through public-private partnerships. Besides supporting regular research projects of the TKIs, the government provides a top-up for research-oriented PPP-initiatives. As part of the new R&I policy, the government is reorganizing its applied research institutes to reduce governance costs and reduce complexity for SMEs.
In 2014 industry invested €359m in research conducted in TKIs, which amounts to 44% of total funding for TKI-projects. Taken together with the public funding, the total TKI R&D-expenditures were €814m. This is above the target of €800m, out of which 40% funded by private parties. The new top sectors approach based on public-private partnerships can play a role in improving the valorisation of public knowledge by bringing about closer cooperation between business and public research performers, while raising the scope and ambition of business innovation including in performing more R&D. The bottom up, firm focused, approach taken in the design of the Top Sectors and their research agendas (notably the bi-annual Knowledge and Innovation Contracts) ensures involvement of businesses and the direction of policy support at the challenges and opportunities observed by these firms. While R&D expenditures may be low, the Netherlands ranks fifth among EU MS in terms of its share of SMEs introducing product or process innovations. A greater involvement of SMEs in the instruments of the top sector policy could increase the impact of this policy further. In order to make this happen, policy measures were simplified and a special intervention for SME participation was introduced (SME Innovation support for Top Sectors; MIT) over the past few years.