Research quality

The high quality of research at Dutch universities is demonstrated mainly by the outcomes of competitions for international research funds, in which the quality of Dutch research proposals consistently rates very highly. Further evidence of the high quality of Dutch research is provided by the citation impact scores of publications and positions in international rankings. The quality of Dutch research is assured by the Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP).

Return rates of European framework programmes


To fund their research, scientists from all over Europe submit grant proposals to the European Research Council (ERC). The quality of the proposals is assessed by scientists employed by the ERC. Only proposals of the highest quality are granted. Research proposals coordinated by Dutch research institutions are consistently rated very highly by the ERC. In terms of absolute numbers of awarded ERC grants, the Netherlands ranks fourth behind only the United Kingdom, Germany and France. As regards the number of awarded ERC grants in relation to the size of the national population, the Netherlands ranks third.



Citation impact


Although not a perfect indicator, international scientific influence is often measured by the number of times a publication is cited. This is known as its ‘citation impact score’. The underlying principle is that scientists are likely to cite research that is of a high standard and/or innovative. The graph below indicates the share of a country’s publications that is ranked among the top 10% of most cited publications worldwide. This is compared to the share of publications produced as a result of collaborations with foreign universities and research institutions.


The graph shows that there is a strong correlation between the level of international cooperation and the number of highly cited articles. The Netherlands ranks highly for both indicators. Of all publications produced by Dutch universities, 58% are the result of collaborations with foreign universities and 14% rank among the top 10% worldwide. Consequently, the Netherlands performs far above average, making it one of the top five performers.


If we break the figures down to university level, the picture is similar. All Dutch universities perform far above average.


This prominent international position provides no guarantee for the future, however. The high quality of research at Dutch universities is the result of past investments and the efficient manner in which Dutch research is organised. It is unlikely that the Netherlands would be able to retain this position if it were to cease investing in R&D.


International rankings


A university’s position in international rankings is another indicator of research quality. Dutch universities perform well in both the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) Shanghai Ranking. The THE ranking puts 13 Dutch universities in the top 200 of best universities. This compares to nine universities in the ARWU ranking. With respect to other countries, the Netherlands ranks fourth and fifth respectively. In terms of the number of positions in relation to the size of the national population, the Netherlands even rises to third and second.


Standard Evaluation Protocol


Evaluations of scientific research are carried out using the Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) developed by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the VSNU. The current SEP will apply from 2015-2021.


The Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP) describes the goals and methodologies used in the evaluations of scientific research that are carried out at universities and NWO/KNAW institutions every six years. Since the 1990s, the SEP has constituted the core of the quality assurance system for research, and has proven its exceptional worth since that time. In 2013, the 2009-2015 SEP was evaluated and fully revised by the VSNU, NWO and KNAW to bring it more in line with the contemporary demands placed by science and society.