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Open access publication in the spotlight (March) - 'Gender differences in Dutch research funding over time: A statistical investigation of the innovation scheme 2012–2021'

Date:21 March 2024
Author:Open Access Team
Open access publication in the spotlight: March 2024
Open access publication in the spotlight: March 2024

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of March 2024 is titled Gender differences in Dutch research funding over time: A statistical investigation of the innovation scheme 2012–2021, written by Casper Albers (Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences), Sense Jan van der Molen (Leiden University) en Thijs Bol (University of Amsterdam).


Background: In 2015, the Dutch research council, NWO, took measures to combat gender bias disadvantaging female applicants in a popular three-tiered funding scheme called the Talent Programme. The innovation scheme consists of three grants for different career stages, called Veni, Vidi and Vici.

Objectives: This paper studies the question whether or not NWO has been successful in removing gender differences in their funding procedure.

Methods: Using all available data from 2012 onwards of grant applications in the Talent Programme (16,249 applications of which 2,449 received funding), we study whether these measures had an effect using binomial generalized linear models.

Results: We find strong statistical evidence of a shift in gender effects in favour of female applicants in the first tier, the Veni (p < .001). Significant gender differences are not found in the two other tiers, the Vidi and Vici schemes.

Conclusions: In recent years, female applicants are more likely to be awarded with a Veni grant than male applicants and this gender gap has increased over time. This suggests that gender differences still exist in the assessment of Talent Programme submissions, albeit in a different direction than a decade ago.

We asked corresponding author Casper Albers a few questions about the article:

You found that for the Veni grants, the success probability for female applicants has increased over time (2012-2021), at the costs of that of male applicants. In recent years, female applicants are more likely to be awarded with a Veni grant than male applicants. For the Vidi and Vici grants, there was no such gender effect. Can you speculate on why this effect was missing for the Vidi and Vici schemes?

We have indeed shown that the gender balance in the Veni tier has swapped from being in favour of male applicants towards being in favour of female applicants. We did not show that for the Vidi and Vici this effect was absent. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence: it could be that in the Vidi and Vici round a similar pattern occurs, but that we simply did not have sufficient data to call it ‘significant’: for each Vici-grant there are almost five Veni-grants, and with larger samples it is obviously easier to detect effects.

We did see that the percentage of female applicants decreases over tiers: for the Veni, nearly half (46%) of applicants is female, whereas for the Vici it’s only one third (33%). This is in line with the leaky pipeline-theory from literature, suggesting that women leave academia at a higher rate than men. One could speculate that therefore female applicants for the Vidi/Vici tier are, on average, of higher quality than male applicants and that a non-balanced funding ratio might be warranted. However, we do not want to make these speculations as we have not looked at the quality of the proposals at all. All we did was apply a statistical model to the publicly available data that NWO themselves share: the number of successful and unsuccessful applications, per gender, per field and per year; and then interpret the results. For explanations of the (lack of) effects we found, further studies are needed.

What is your view on using lotteries (random selection) for funding decisions? Wouldn’t involving random selection be the best way to avoid implicit biases? 

Lotteries – by definition – indeed get rid of implicit biases in the funding scheme. This concerns not only gender biases but also for instance the Matthew effect

Furthermore, lotteries can save people loads of time. In our paper, we have studied data on 16,249 applications. If we conservatively estimate that a grant proposal takes 100 hours to write, Dutch academics have spent 1.6 million hours writing Talent Programme proposals. For those hours, you could have given one thousand people a full time position for a year. 

The lottery system has several strong advantages. I’m also happy that our faculty (BSS) has decided to hand out the PhD-positions from the stimuleringsgelden via a lottery.

How did you select the journal in which to publish? Why did you choose PLOS ONE?

The initial version of this manuscript was written by Sense Jan van der Molen, a physicist from Leiden University, and myself. We consciously decided not to speculate about the reasons for the effect that we’ve found, as this lies outside the area of our academic expertise. We submitted the work to a preprint server and a journal specifically dedicated to funding policies. That version got rejected, due to the lack of embedding it in literature. We’ve then teamed up with Thijs Bol, a sociologist from Amsterdam who has already done multiple studies in this field, and he helped to greatly improve the paper. As there aren’t too many papers specifically dedicated to academic policy making, we decided to submit to a journal which publishes work from any field, provided it is of sound quality.

To publish your article open access, PLOS charged an article processing charge (APC) of $2,290 (for PLOS there is no APC discount available for UG authors). How did you pay for this, and what do you think of such a fee?

 This was paid from our group’s research budget. 

To a large extent, this is of course a waste of public money. The preprint was (and still is) available for free (and if we had published in a closed science journal, we would’ve updated it with the revised version), and with the Taverne amendment the publisher’s version would be published on the UG repository in six months anyway. We have now spent over two thousand euros of taxpayers’ money to enable everyone to see the paper in PLOS-layout for six months. I think that money could have been better spent.

Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?

I’m a great advocate of open science and one of the UG’s open science ambassadors. On my office door I have a sticker with Jon Tennant’s slogan “Open Science: Just Science Done Right”. Nowadays, there are virtually no valid reasons for doing closed science. 

Open access, however, is only a small part of open science. Open access also doesn’t imply always paying the APC: as I explained in the previous answer, the university could’ve saved $2,290 and still give the whole world the chance to read the work for free. Being transparent in your research questions, study design, analysis choices, data sharing, etc., are much more fundamental and important ingredients of open science.

At the Heymans Institute, we’ve already reached nearly 100% open access (97% in 2021). Rather than spending valuable resources (both time and money) in getting those last 3 percentage points open access, I would rather spend those in the other aspects of open science, e.g. by encouraging staff to write more preregistrations and registered reports.

Useful links:

For more about using lotteries for funding decisions, see our interview with Marco Bieri. He explains why and how the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has been employing random selection in grant decisions since 2019.

Open Research Award of the University of Groningen: The Open Science Community Groningen (OSCG) and the University of Groningen Library (UB) collaboratively set up the annual Open Research Award that applies a modified lottery to award 3 case studies that are randomly drawn among all eligible submissions.

Casper Albers’ personal website.


Albers, C., Van der Molen, S. J., & Bol, T. (2024). Gender differences in Dutch research funding over time: A statistical investigation of the innovation scheme 2012–2021. PLOS ONE, 19(2), e0297311.

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About the author

Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

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