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29-07-2020

Opinion: Create a national campus policy to keep the Netherlands innovative

Opinion: Create a national campus policy to keep the Netherlands innovative

Of the people who now work from home, 60% expect to do so one or two days a week, even after corona, according to research by the Kennisinstituut voor Mobiliteitsbeleid. What is striking is that almost no one would want to work from home every day. Then we are missing something. The chance encounters, the unexpected conversations. They provide inspiration and often lead to new ideas. Inspiration, innovation and renewal simply benefit from encounters and coincidence. Two things that working from home can’t offer us.

Coincidental encounters are no coincidence

This is also how it works in science and innovation. New hypotheses arise when scientists challenge each other. New applications of existing techniques emerge from discussions between people about their field of expertise. These encounters sound and feel like coincidences, but they often are not.
At the science parks and innovation campuses in the Netherlands, a structured approach is taken to creating chance encounters between science and industry, between students and experienced researchers. Spaces and buildings are designed in such a way that the chance of encounters between people from different disciplines and companies increases. Call it engineered serendipity. The aim is to create a climate where innovation is flourishing and university spin-outs can grow into mature companies. And with success. The science parks and innovation campuses are experiencing very strong job growth. Buck Consultants researched the growth of jobs at these top locations and saw that (with an average of 22%) this is almost 4 times more than the average job growth of the municipalities in which the campuses are located. Campuses are therefore important for innovation and job growth. In short: for the earning power of the Netherlands. It is therefore disappointing that science parks and campuses have still not been included in the national policy developed by the government to safeguard our future earning capacity. And that is a missed opportunity.

Financing innovation campus often temporary

Our campuses, such as Brightlands in Limburg, the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven and Leiden BioScience Park, are still dependent on regional or local funding and on public-private partnerships between the university, the municipality and the regional business community. It works, but the funding is often temporary and strongly dependent on regional policy. This regional focus can stand in the way of further specialisation of a campus. After all, where the Netherlands benefits from a distinctive character per campus, regional authorities are often primarily looking for regional job growth, regardless of the sector or domain concerned. This may even lead to startups moving to regions where the best financing arrangements are offered, while those regions are not the best environment for the startups in question in terms of innovative ecosystem.
It is therefore time for a targeted campus policy on the part of the national government, whereby the government will work on a structured policy for all science parks and campuses in the Netherlands together. After all, only a top sector policy and attention to key technologies will not build an innovative ecosystem. This also includes paying attention to the physical places where science and business come together. Where it is possible to work in shared research facilities and where people are actively brought into contact with each other.

Help innovation campuses strengthen earning capacity

Building and maintaining such campuses and science parks requires huge investments. Investments necessary for the development of shared facilities, for the process of valorisation, or for supporting spin-outs and startups. But also for business developers, who actively seek new connections between science and business, and the community builders who help share knowledge through events. They, too, need extra investment.
Now that less money will be available from the European Union for the ‘Horizon Europe’ research and education programme in the coming years, universities will be less willing to invest in physical locations and spend the budget on research sooner. This also argues in favour of the government taking up the gauntlet and developing a national policy for science parks and campuses. With Budget Day, the distribution of the growth fund, the long-term growth strategy for the Netherlands, is on the agenda. Make funds available from this fund so that science parks and innovation campuses can help strengthen the Netherlands’ earning capacity.

Anne-Wil Lucas, Director Kennispark Twente

Read more about the Manifesto Top Locations recently presented to the Ministry by the 10 national innovation campuses of the Netherlands.

Source: This article by Anne-Wil Lucas has been published as an opinion piece in the Financieel Dagblad.

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