National Growth Fund: millions for knowledge development and innovation projects in Limburg
The Dutch Cabinet's decision on the allocation of the National Growth Fund offers perspective for the further strengthening of knowledge development and innovation in Limburg. The conditional grant for the Einstein Telescope provides a strong basis for the campaign to build an underground observatory in southern Limburg, together with Belgium and Germany, to measure gravity waves. Other allocations involving Maastricht University are aimed at accelerating the development of cancer drugs, strengthening education in the Netherlands and matching supply and demand on the labour market better through lifelong learning. The Brightlands Chemelot Campus can also, under certain conditions, continue with its work with circular plastics.
The National Growth Fund (NGF) is the fund with which the Dutch government will invest €20 billion between 2021 and 2025 in projects that ensure long-term economic growth.
After a first round in April 2021, the Cabinet decided on 14 April 2022 which projects and programmes would be eligible for a NGF grant in the second round of allocations. In most of the awarded programmes, a large number of different parties are active; including knowledge institutions, governments, businesses and civil society organisations. This also applies to the programmes in which Maastricht University is involved. For example:
The Cabinet is conditionally allocating €42 million from the National Growth Fund to the Einstein Telescope and is also reserving €870 million for a future Dutch contribution to the construction.
The planned investment of €42 million will go towards preparatory work such as innovation of the necessary technology, site investigation, building a high-tech ecosystem and organisation. With the reservation of €870 million, the Netherlands has an excellent basis to apply in the future, together with Belgium and Germany, for the realisation of the Einstein Telescope in the border region of southern Limburg. The NGF proposal was prepared by the Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef), the Province of Limburg and the regional development agency LIOF, and was supported by the Dutch Ministries of Education, Culture and Science and of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. Maastricht University is a partner of Nikhef.
The Ontwikkelkracht (power to develop) programme aims to sustainably strengthen the quality of the Dutch education system. This is necessary now that the performance of pupils, especially in primary and secondary education, is under scrutiny. Additionally, there is an increasing inequality of opportunity in the Netherlands, and many people working in education experience an exceptionally high workload.
The programme strengthens the connection between education and research. Teachers and school leaders are intensively involved in Ontwikkelkracht; their real-life challenges are central. Ontwikkelkracht offers schools the possibility to build and strengthen a culture of research and improvement and to develop, together with researchers, promising approaches to the major educational problems they face. In addition, schools can become a research and development school (R&D school). R&D schools help each other and other schools to find solutions to educational bottlenecks by working in an evidence-informed way. The ultimate goal is to improve the development, learning results and opportunities of pupils.
Ontwikkelkracht was devised by an alliance of Education Lab (a partnership between Maastricht University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Groeikracht (a partnership between a number of teachers, school leaders, education and innovation experts) and the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO).
The Cabinet has decided to make €332 million available from the National Growth Fund for Ontwikkelkracht, of which €101 million will be allocated directly and €231 million conditionally.
Over 300 parties participate in the MaterialenNL platform, including companies, knowledge institutions and research organisations. Through the development of sustainable and circular materials and material applications, the goal is to contribute to strengthening the Dutch economy and at the same time make it CO2 neutral and circular.
MaterialenNL has been conditionally allocated €220 million. Some €30 million of this is earmarked for Brightlands Circular Space on the Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Sittard-Geleen. There, a physical environment is being developed that will focus on the separation and mechanical and chemical recycling of plastics as part of the circular raw materials transition. Maastricht University's plastic recycling research will be an integral part of this.
Oncode-PACT builds a ‘virtual’ preclinical development machine that improves and accelerates the development of cancer drugs. It offers all Dutch cancer researchers and companies of all sizes expertise and facilities for preclinical development. At the same time, Oncode-PACT innovates the preclinical development process with a combination of organoids (in vitro human cell cultures), patient cohorts (unique national databases) and artificial intelligence. This enables Oncode-PACT to predict at a very early stage whether candidate drugs have a real chance of success. UM's M4i research institute is involved in Oncode-PACT for the development of organoids as test beds for cancer medicines.
Oncode-PACT will receive a contribution of €325 million from the National Growth Fund, €161 million of which will be allocated directly and €164 million conditionally.
Lifelong Learning Catalyst
The Lifelong Learning (Leven Lang Ontwikkelen - LLO) Catalyst unites educational institutions, employers and employees in the Netherlands to handle the many opportunities and challenges of retraining large groups of citizens in the coming years.
The LLO Catalyst tackles three challenges: there is insufficient insight into the future demand for labour, there is insufficient supply to meet this demand and the learning culture in the Netherlands is insufficiently developed. The LLO Catalyst gives an impulse to the national ecosystem of lifelong development by gaining enough insight into the demand for skills, and by stimulating development and activation of the labour force to meet the demands.
Together with Radboud University Nijmegen and the Open University, UM is working in its own region as part of the programme’s LLO South-East Hub. The LLO Catalyst is partly the result of ambitions that have existed in the south-eastern Netherlands for some time. For the total, nationwide project, the government is now making €392 million available from the NGF, of which €167 million will be allocated directly and €225 million conditionally.