Millions in subsidies to promote female academics unclaimed by universities: report
Over the past six years, universities in the Netherlands left at least 2 million euros in subsidies intended to promote promising female scientists untouched. A fifth of women eligible for grants through these subsidies did not get them, even though they applied for them, the Volkskrant reports based on its own research.
The subsidy in question is the so-called Aspasia premium from research fund NWO. Universities can receive a subsidy of between 50 thousand and 200 thousand euros for women who win, or just miss winning, a prestigious Vidi or Vici grant - grants for top scientific talents given to less than 2 percent of researchers during their career. The only condition NWO sets to the Aspasia premium is that the university promotes its Vidi or Vici laureate to associate professor or professor respectively.
That often does not happen, according to a survey the Volkskrant held among 200 female scientists who received a Vidi or Vici grant in the period 2013 to 2018 and were not yet professors at that time. Of the 126 respondents who were eligible for an Aspasia subsidy, one in five said that they did not receive this grant even though they applied for it. They were told by their research institution that the subsidy did not compensate for the extra salary costs, or that it would run counter to the institution's personnel policy, according to the newspaper.
The Volkskrant's findings correspond to NWO figures for the 2010 to 2012 period, during which scientific institutions refused the Aspasia premium for at least 27 of the 166 eligible candidates. NWO does not yet have definitive figures for more recent periods.
The Netherlands' network of female professors LNHV is not surprised by the Volkskrant's findings. "This is a missed opportunity for universities. These are women who have been assessed as excellent by an external committee in the Vidi or Vici procedure", a spokesperson said to the newspaper. "The LNHV would like to see that universities and NWO are discussing with each other how the grant percentage of the Aspasia premium can be increased, so that this incentive program is optimally effective. Measures of this kind are desperately needed. The undervaluation of women remains a blind spot."
Universities' association VSNU told the newspaper that the unused subsidies are primarily a sign that too little money goes to university education and research. "To promote someone, there must be structural funding", a spokesperson said to the Volkskrant. The Aspasia premium often only partially covers those costs, which means the university needs to pitch in. And sometimes there simply is not enough money for that, the spokesperson said. "You can only spend a euro once. Those cases are extremely unfortunate, because we think it is important to increase the proportion of women in high positions."