Netherlands risks losing leading position as knowledge nation

The Netherlands is a leading knowledge nation and would like to enhance its international reputation as such. To retain its leading position, the Netherlands must continue to invest in research and development (R&D), requiring action by both the government and industry.

Dutch R&D investments low on the international scale

Dutch research: limited resources, (as yet) high impact 

Dutch R&D investments are low on the international scale

In 2014, the European Union set itself the goal of having R&D investments exceed 3% of GDP by 2020.  These include investments by both the public and private sectors. At that time, the Netherlands set itself a lower target: 2.5% of GDP. In recent years, the Netherlands has consistently invested around 2% of GDP in R&D, falling well short of its goal of 2.5%. In 2015, R&D investments only reached 1.99% of GDP.



The Netherlands invests less in research and development than the OECD average, and is therefore at risk of running up a knowledge deficit relative to other countries both in Europe and beyond. This would have far-reaching consequences for the Netherlands’ international competitive position. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) issued a warning to this effect in its recent advisory report entitled ‘De aantrekkelijkheid van Nederland als onderzoeksland’ [The appeal of the Netherlands as a research destination] (p. 34):
‘After an initial increase earlier this century, R&D expenditure per researcher in the Netherlands in 2010 and 2012 dropped. Sweden shows an even more pronounced drop after 2012. Although the situation is stable in the United Kingdom, R&D spending per researcher in the US, Germany and China is on the rise (UNESCO 2017). If these trends continue, the Netherlands’ competitive position will be adversely affected.’
In its report titled Houd de basis gezond – prioriteiten voor extra investeringen in onderzoek en innovatie [Maintaining a healthy basis – priorities for additional investments in research and innovation], the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) already warned that the Netherlands would need to increase its R&D investments if it wishes to retain its leading research position. According to the AWTI, government investments are key to motivating private-sector investments in R&D.

The good news is that the third Rutte cabinet earmarked an additional €400 million annually for R&D investments, including fundamental, groundbreaking and applied research. And although this is a good start, more is necessary in order to retain a leading position globally.

Dutch research: limited resources, (as yet) high impact 

Despite the relatively limited scope of Dutch R&D investments, the citation impact of Dutch research is high: a large portion of Dutch publications are in the top 10%. The citation impact score is a measure of how often scientific publications are referenced: the more often publications are cited, the greater the impact of the articles.
Despite the relative scarcity of funding and research resources, Dutch researchers still manage to conduct high-quality incisive research. Dutch scientists are no stranger to collaboration with other researchers both in the Netherlands and abroad, as well as being very successful at acquiring European research grants.
The world scientific landscape is also shifting: China, for example, has made significant R&D investments in recent years, and both their total number of publications and the ratio of high-quality publications has grown exponentially. Net Chinese investments in R&D have now passed those of the EU. Germany has also recently made considerable investments in R&D, and will continue to intensify them in years to come. These investments were likewise accompanied by an increase in the number of publications and citations. To retain a strong international research position into the future, the Netherlands will therefore need to increase investments in research and development, demanding action from both the public and private sectors.