Scientists leaving Netherlands for better wages worries university leaders

With reporting by Zack Newmark.

Top scientific minds from all across the Netherlands are being drawn away by better salaries and greater funding for research grants in other countries. Frank Baaijens, Dean of the Technical University in Eindhoven, is upset over the institution's loss of one of their top scientists, Maaike Kroon, he told the Volkskrant.

Named a top science talent for 2015 just last week by readers of the New Scientist NL magazine, she decided to take a job at the Abu Dhabi University. Born in 1980, Kroon became the youngest female professor in the country in 2010.

Aside from the salary bump, Kroon told the newspaper that in the Netherlands her faculty's budget decreases annually while the number of students is rising. That also has a negative effect on research opportunities, she added. Aside from that, there is little possibility for professors to advance further in the Netherlands.

She contrasts that with life at Abu Dhabi University, where she will also arrange the programs for doctoral candidates. She says there are many more opportunities at the ten-year-old technical university compared to her home country's offerings.

Baaijen is concerned about the talent that is being pulled away from the Netherlands and is supported by mathematician Frank den Hollander of the scientific advisory board KNAW, who has said that they only have a limited ability to bind durable top talent to the Netherlands. This is becoming increasingly difficult in the face of a rapidly growing market abroad. He added that the problem was urgent enough to have to draw up a formal opinion on how to deal with the situation.

Baaijens also thinks that not only higher wages but also greater scientific funding is a solution. He was supported in a statement by researcher Marian Thunnissen of Utrecht Uiversity who specialises in the University’s talent policy. Thunnissen added that laboratory conditions as well as good infrastructure and adequate research facilities are also needed.

The Ministry of Education points the finger at the Dutch National Research Agenda, which determines the key topics and questions that academic research must focus on every year. A spokesman for the ministry said the Agenda must ensure that scientific challenges and opportunities are met, and that they make the Netherlands a more attractive scientific country.

The retention of top scientific minds acts as magnets for universities looking to attract students and research grants, and with the international market pleasing at this stage, Dutch talent performing abroad is still a good reflection on the Dutch scientific community, the ministry spokesman added.