Research at universities impacts society
All fundamental, groundbreaking and applied research conducted at Dutch universities contributes to the advancement of society. Some fundamental scientific breakthroughs are not applied until years later, however. Take Nobel Prize winner Ben Feringa’s ‘nanomachines’, the smallest machines in the world: according to the Nobel Committee, his discovery can be compared to the advent of the electric motor around 1830. Back then, enthusiastic scientists set crankshafts and wheels in motion, unaware that they were ultimately paving the way for devices such as washing machines, fan systems and kitchen appliances. In the future, nanomachines will probably be used to develop new materials, sensors, drugs and energy storage methods.
Because universities conduct these types of research across a wide range of disciplines, they impact both current and future society. Telling examples and facts & figures on universities’ impact on society can be found in the e‑zine entitled Valorisatie in beeld (Focus on Valorisation).
The social relevance of research
The close collaboration between Dutch universities and industry is evident in the many publications written in collaboration with researchers from the business community, the number of patent applications submitted by universities, the income generated from government-funded research contracts, and the number of knowledge-intensive startups founded by university staff and students. These contributions are of crucial importance to the Netherlands as a knowledge economy. The above forms of impact are more easily quantifiable than the non-economic impact of universities on society, however, which include participation in social debate in the media and elsewhere, the involvement of university employees in evidence-based recommendations to the government, and contributions to regional development and the public sector (e.g. health care, culture, security and the judicial system).
Confidence in research is high
Dutch universities are at the core of society, and the key contribution made by Dutch universities reflects society’s confidence in research. As the diagram shows, the Netherlands has a high level of confidence in science. According to the Rathenau Institute, science is the institution that the Dutch trust the most, followed at some distance by the judicial system, the unions, newspapers and television.
Society also believes that science and research also help to solve a large number of issues in society. The Eurobarometer shows that the Dutch have high expectations when it comes to the impact of science and research on important contemporary issues.
More citations, more impact
The research conducted by Dutch universities aids the ongoing development in a large number of fields, spanning the full spectrum of academic and scientific disciplines. Scholarly publications that prove to be important are in turn cited by other publications, making the citation rate a good indication of the quality and impact of a publication. The diagram shows that across the board, the impact of Dutch research is significantly higher than the global average. It is important for Dutch research to be of high quality across the board, as the social issues of today and tomorrow demand cooperation among various disciplines. The high citation impact is one of the reasons why Dutch universities are among the top 2% in the world.