More funding for scientific research

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The government of Flanders has corrected its “mistake” of cutting its budget for scientific research during the past years. Minister-President Kris Peeters CD&V earlier stressed that these savings “would not be repeated again”. Yesterday this promise was put into practice by the release of funds for fundamental research in particular. Minister for Innovation Ingrid Lieten SP.A signed a 5-year 2012-2016 management agreement with the scientific research fund, Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek FWO. The fund will receive an additional 14 million euros to increase the number of study grants and contracts for fundamental scientific research from 2.500 to 3.000 euros. During the past decades Flanders managed to increase the traditional lack of interest in fundamental  interest among its bright students, but unfortunately budgets did not follow suit, causing the number of approved bursary applications to drop to a historic low of less than 20%. The tide is now set to turn and increase to 33%, which is on a par with international standards and enough to motivate young researchers. According to Lieten, the management agreement will follow four distinct policy lines, the first of which is the systematic increase of general research resources as part of the multi-year budget. Secondly fundamental research will be given a larger share. Flemish universities and the government of Flanders has often been reminded of its enormous success in respect of commissioned and applied research at the expense of fundamental research, which should be the basis of all research. Thirdly the agreement stipulates that the FWO should do more to secure internationalisation, with more Fleming students given bursaries to engage in top international research projects. At the same time bright academic researchers from other countries should be lured to top Flemish research centres by means of bursaries. Lieten is also said to have allocated 3 million euros for the Odysseus project, which attracts top foreign scientists to top research facilities in Flanders. At times these are expats who are “lured” to return to their homeland, like stem cell researcher Catherine Verfaille. Lieten further agreed with the FWO to facilitate a more balanced ratio of male and female researchers. With funding now established in a management agreement for the next five years, the FWO can rely on a fixed budget until 2016.

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