Economic Activity

As in England, research conducted freely with generic funding is not likely to be regarded as an economic activity. With regards to funding provided through the tweede geldstroom, the interviewees confirmed that the Vernieuwingsimpuls in NWO (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek; Netherlands Research Council) funding is a completely open talent funding scheme given mainly for basic research. It would therefore, probably also not amount to an economic activity. Another part of NWO funding would go towards bottom up ideas provided by senior researchers for projects of varying kinds and sizes. Open calls like these where researchers enjoy a large amount of freedom to conduct independent research and which, according to the interviewees, also existed in other intermediary agencies like STW, would probably also not have to be regarded as an economic activity. However, an increasing amount of public funding is themed.

Two interviewees considered that themed calls would represent more than half of the non-generic public funding overall, especially since the introduction of the top sector policy discussed in Chap. 4 (Sect. 4.3.1.1 “Public Research Organisations”). Some themed calls are, according to the interviewees, very detailed with exact descriptions to be followed, especially the public funding provided for bigger cooperations or public-private funding for Ph.D. projects. Similar to what has been discussed for England (Sect. 5.3.3), this might be considered as an economic service that could be commissioned on a market. As regards the top sector funding, as an interviewee explained, the private sector and academia must come up with a research agenda within the field of the top sectors and then receive public funding to set up the co-operation as well as most of the academic funding. Here the classification as an economic activity, would therefore depend on the research agenda as will be discussed further below (in this section) for public-private co-operations.

As mentioned in Chap. 4 (Sect. 4.3.2.2), the derde geldstroom consists of funding from a variety of providers. Firstly, there is contract research for the government which will have to be regarded as an economic activity. Secondly, there is EU and international funding which will not be looked at in this study. Thirdly, there is funding provided by charities. According to the interviewees, funding from charities would usually only set out a subject area within which researchers freely apply with any kind of projects. As this is difficult to replicate under market conditions, it seems unlikely that this amounts to an economic activity. Finally, collaborations with the private sector fall under the derde geldstroom. Here a variety of collaborative forms have been identified in Chap. 4 (Sect. 4.3.2.3) which all seem to be present in the universities under scrutiny. The interviewees described contract research as delivering certain results with little or no freedom for researchers. This form of collaboration is clearly an economic activity.

Like in England, the interviewees did not elaborate further about science parks (or innovatiecampussen) which could equally be explained by the loose form of the collaboration which in itself will probably also not have to be regarded as an undertaking. In PPPs, the universities would, according to the interviewees, look for companies to collaborate with which would then pay cash or contribute in kind, while additional public funding is often also available from the government or the EU. In such co-operations work packages are agreed and the main point is joint research and mutual learning. The parties in the co-operation share intellectual property with each other in order to do further research (not to exploit). Commonly generated IPRs will be allocated according to previously agreed contracts which also set out the other terms of the co-operation. There are standardised templates, but especially the negotiation of IPR issues could be lengthy. This form of collaboration would currently be pushed by both the government, especially through the top sector policy, and by the EU. It is difficult to make a general statement about the economic nature of this collaborative form. If the research takes place freely with the aim of generating knowledge and disseminating it at a pre-competitive stage and the universities have sufficient influence on the directions of research, the collaboration might be non-economic in nature. If the cooperative project essentially amounts to conducting a research service for the private sector partner or the partners are, in essence, cooperatively conducting a research service for the government, as the description of the calls for some collaborative projects given by some interviewees indicate, this could amount to an economic activity.

IPR exploitation was regarded as very important by the interviewees. Firstly, the commercial interest and exploitability of the research would be assessed and then there would be a search for partners to develop the research further and exploit the results. The exact deals in this context would be negotiated. These could either be with existing companies or a spin-off would be created specifically for the exploitation. The latter is preferred if the potential IPR is ‘disruptive’ technology significantly different from what companies are currently doing and there is little synergy to integrate it into an existing company. Start-ups beyond spin-offs were not mentioned by interviewees. As, discussed above (Chap. 3 Sects. 3.2.4.2 and 3.3.5.3 as well as Sect. 5.3.2 for England), IPR exploitation has to be regarded as non-economic activity if, according to the Research Framework, it has an internal character and profits are reinvested and, as is argued here, it arose from noneconomic activities and is non-exclusive. Judging from what has been said, there appears to be economic as well as non-economic IPR exploitation. As regards newly founded companies, whether or not they constitute an economic activity for the university depends on the activity and on how affiliated they still are.

The vierde geldstroom contains purely philanthropic donations without any consideration. An interviewee responsible for charitable donations explained how in his university a charity as a separate legal entity is established to collect donations and then pass them on to the university thereby allowing for the donations to be tax deductible. The charity is also utilised if calls in the tweede or derde geldstroom require a charity to be involved. The interviewee gave the example of the Coca-Cola Foundation which would only accept applications from charities and wherein the university fund would then submit the application for the researchers. The money generated by the fund would mainly go to research projects, but also to educational activities and community projects. The persons or institutions providing the funding can chose between general donations or donations for a specific fund dedicated to scholarships or chairs. Higher donations can also be named funds which can be dedicated to specific kinds of research. Generally a committee in the university fund chooses which project is to be funded, but occasionally donors would want to be involved. This can even go as far as donors prescribing a very specific project, although this would be exceptional. The interviewee mentioned the example of an individual donor requesting a rather specific project be undertaken on rehabilitative medicine for work-related physical problems of certain professionals. Sometimes the university fund also approaches philanthropists who are known to be interested in a specific topic with an already existing project requiring additional funding. A donor may also approach the fund wanting to donate to a specific project. Generally, the described situations where money is provided in a purely charitable fashion to the university in general or even for research in specific areas could not be regarded as buying a market service. However, in the exceptional cases where a very specific project is demanded, this could probably be seen as being able to take place under market conditions. The fact that the commissioners of such research are neither using the results themselves nor making an economic profit from them, does not change the possibility that such studies could be commissioned on a market from private providers. It might therefore be regarded as an economic activity.

 
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