Ghent University pioneers with non-competitive basic funding for professors

(13-07-2023) Ghent University is taking another step in the transition from quantitative to qualitative research evaluation: professors engaged in research will be awarded non-competitive funding.

The amount of this basic funding will be an amount that will allow two researchers to fund a doctoral grant together.

This research policy, which was given the green light by the board of governors on 7 July 2023, will take effect from 2024. With this policy choice, Ghent University strengthens the foundations of its holistic approach to research evaluation and confirms its pioneering role in research funding and HR policy. In our country, Ghent University is the first university to structurally award substantial research grants to its professors. An estimated 1,100 Ghent University professors will be awarded the funding.

Rector Rik Van de Walle: "Research funding is often embedded in a competitive system. This has numerous advantages but currently the balance is lost. Excessive competition linked to some classic funding instruments still too often hinders cooperation between researchers. Moreover, the combination of labour-intensive application procedures and low success rates for funding applications can cause frustration and demotivation. By granting structural basic funding, we give professors and their staff the confidence and comfort of not having to compete incessantly for research funding. This has a motivating and stimulating effect. It also gives our researchers more intellectual breathing space for creative, innovative and groundbreaking research."

Special Research Fund

The basic funding will be embedded in the Special Research Fund (BOF), the internal fund for research of Ghent University. Its share of non-competitive research funding (mainly start-up credits and PhD grants) is currently around 4-5% of total Ghent University research funding. The core funding will replace a number of existing competitive funding channels within the BOF, increasing the share of non-competitive research funding to approx. 14%.

Although the vast majority of research funding will still have to be acquired competitively, by introducing the structural core funding, Ghent University is setting an important beacon in the transition from quantitative to qualitative research evaluation.

Rector Rik Van de Walle: "For years, changes in the research climate in Flanders have been pushing forward against the overemphasis on mere quantification as a measure of quality and evaluation. A research policy that relies much more than today on trust in researchers. A policy that gets researchers out of the race and lets them do what they do best: engage in high-quality scientific research that meets the questions and needs of our society. With the introduction of our career models a few years ago, Ghent University established its holistic vision on evaluation and promotion, based on mutual trust instead of control, on intrinsic motivation instead of imposed goals as the engine for talent. The fact that our 'Ghent model' has since been increasingly followed at home and abroad is a sign that other universities and research institutions are also inspired by our evaluation model that puts quality above quantity. I am convinced that now again, with the introduction of our non-competitive core funding, we will be able to move a stone in the river and be a gamechanger for others."

Basic funding for professors - FAQ’s for staff

1. Who is the non-competitive basic funding intended for?

Professorial staff who are active in research with a (possibly combined) appointment rate of at least 50% will be allocated 100% of the non-competitive research funding.

Specifically, this involves:

  • ZAP members with an appointment rate of at least 50%
  • Part-time ZAP members (5%-45%) in combination with a clinical mandate at UZGent (where the combined employment rate is at least 50%)
  • Part-time ZAP members (5%-45%) in combination with an appointment as a professor at GUGC (Ghent University Global Campus - Korea) (where the combined employment is at least 50%)
  • Part-time ZAP members (10%-45%) in combination with a second Ghent University appointment, where the combined employment is at least 50%:
    • Postdoctoral scientific Ghent University staff member (WP3)
    • Doctoral assistant
    • FWO postdoc mandate
    • Postdoc imec (with UGent affiliation)
    • Postdoc VIB (with UGent affiliation)
    • Postdoc GUGC
    • Vlerick Business School
    • UZGent non-clinical mandate

2. What exactly is meant by ‘professorial staff who are active in research’?

In order for their research activities to qualify for basic funding, professorial staff have to meet all three of the following conditions:

  • they have applied for external research funding in the past three years;
  • the professorial staff member has had publications in the last three years;
  • the professorial staff member has been the supervisor of a doctorate in the last three years (either a doctorate that is currently in progress, or one that has been completed).

The Research Council will work out these conditions in more detail and present them to the Board of Governors for approval.

3. When will the non-competitive basic funding come into force? If professorial staff are entitled to the funding, do they have to request it or will it be awarded automatically?

Over the course of 2022-23, the Research Council has had numerous discussions regarding the advantages and disadvantages of introducing non-competitive basic funding at Ghent University. There have also been discussions within the faculties. The Research Council presented its advice to the Board of Governors on 7 July 2023, thereby asserting that there is broad support amongst the Ghent University research community for the policy decision to introduce basic structural funding at our university. It is important to know that a clear decision has been made to not differentiate in terms of the size of the research allowance awarded within different research disciplines.

Following approval from the Board of Governors, the Research Council will keep working to finalise the modalities of the non-competitive research allowances and put these into operation. Those modalities will first be resubmitted to the Board of Governors for approval. Information about these will also be communicated widely. The general idea is that, after a launch period lasting from 2024 to 2026 (at the latest), the allocation policy will be fully implemented starting from 2027 onwards (at the latest), with allowances equal to at least 30,000 euros per year.

The procedure for allocating non-competitive research funding will be supported by GISMO. Concrete details about implementation will follow. In any case, a transitional policy will also be developed for professorial staff who still have outstanding Special Research Fund (“BOF”) funding (see question 4).

4. The funds for the non-competitive basic funding will come from the Special Research Fund (“BOF”). Does this mean that all current calls within the Special Research Fund will be abolished in order to free up the budget?

No, this is not the case. Within the Special Research Fund, a yearly budget of (at least) 7 million euros will be reserved for one or more competitive calls for funding, so it will be possible, for example, to make post-doctoral appointments, or to hold a two-yearly call for Concerted Research Actions (GOA).

In addition, depending on the available funds, it will also still be possible to hold one-off, ad hoc competitive calls for funding, for example to cover basic equipment. Taking this into account, starting from 2027, a recurrent budget of 34.5 million euros will still be available for structural research allowances: enough to allocate a yearly research allowance of at least 30,000 euros to each professor who is active in research.

The research allowance will be freely allocated, and can be used for personnel costs, operational costs and/or capital costs (on condition that the expenditure is used for research). It will also be possible for multiple professorial staff to bundle their research allowance together, for example in order to finance a doctoral fellowship.

5. The policy decision to allocate basic structural funding seems to suggest that competition is a bad thing. But surely that’s not true? Competition is an integral part of research funding, and that’s positive.

That is absolutely true. There is nothing wrong with competition as long as there is some balance.

There are numerous discussions within the research literature on various different funding models for research, including debates over the advantages and disadvantages of both competitive and non-competitive research funding.

Due to the lack of data collected over a sufficiently long period to evaluate the relative performance of research in relation to the different models of research funding, it is not possible to draw scientifically substantiated conclusions as to the ideal model, or the ideal combination of models. Every research institution thus has to determine the appropriate balance between non-competitive and competitive research funding, while also taking into account its own context, and possibilities for allocating or obtaining non-competitive versus competitive research funding.

By introducing basic funding, Ghent University is opting to increase the proportion of non-competitive research funding that is allocated to researchers internally in relation to the present proportions (increasing from approx. 4-5% to approx. 14% of total funding). In this way, the university is reinforcing the foundations of its holistic research vision, and taking a step forward in the transition from a quantitative to a qualitative approach to evaluating research. 

The adoption of the principles of the basic structural funding by the Board of Governors, on 7 July 2023, marks a first step. In the coming weeks and months, a variety of modalities and transitional measures will be developed further. Information about these will be communicated via the appropriate internal channels (BOZI, staff newsletter, the Ghent University staff magazine UGent’ers, and internal faculty communication channels). If you already have some questions, please get in touch by email at: