4.4 NPO funds for the realization of research
Among other provisions under the NPO, Dutch universities receive funds to address delays in research primarily by young researchers on temporary employment contracts. These NPO funds, supplemented by allocated funds from the NWO, are used within Tilburg University to extend the temporary employment contracts of PhD students, tenure-track staff, and post-doctoral researchers who have been delayed by the pandemic. Causes of research delays include problems collecting data, additional workload due to converting from in-person to online instruction, childcare duties, mental health issues, or the inability to conduct fieldwork and experiments abroad. From the NPO, and supplemented by NWO funds, the University will receive a total budget of €2.6 million for 2021 and 2022.
The directive Solution Strategies for (Possible) Delay of Research due to the COVID-19 Crisis for Temporary Researchers (PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, and tenure-track staff) at Tilburg University has been prepared for the use of these NPO and NWO funds. This directive, including a decision tree, provides a tool for researchers and their supervisors to discuss the progress of the research and to determine which solution strategies could be used to prevent delays (or further delays) in the research. Possible solution strategies include adjusting the planning of the research project, revising the content of the research project (e.g., conducting research with data that have already been collected), and adjusting expectations about the performance (or performance criteria) to be achieved without lowering the standard. Customization is crucial to doing justice to the diversity of problems.
For bottleneck cases, if legally possible, the option of extending the temporary employment contract can be considered. The final piece of the directive is aimed at researchers who have encountered delays due to COVID-19 and for whom extension of the employment contract is the only remaining possible solution.
The directive outlines a procedure for applying for and awarding the NPO and NWO funds that have been allocated to Tilburg University for the purpose of extending temporary employment contracts. Applications for contract extensions are reviewed by the Central Delay Committee. The Committee, established by the EB, performs assessments according to the specifications of the directive.
In 2021, one emergency round and two regular rounds were organized in which PhD students, tenure-track staff, and post-doctoral researchers could apply for contract extensions. Within this application, researchers should indicate the following:
The extent of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the factors that have caused it
Why other solution strategies are not possible
The manner in which an attempt is made to achieve the intended result during an extension.
The call for applications was distributed through the Deans and Directors, the Graduate Schools, an intranet message, the newsletter, and a direct email to the PhD students. In 2022, another two rounds will be held in which temporary researchers with research delays due to COVID-19 can apply for contract extensions.
Expenditures in 2021
In 2021, a total of 106 applications for contract extensions were honored. Funds amounting to €1.8 million were allocated for this purpose. The actual costs incurred in 2021 amounted to €369,000. Expenditures are accounted for based on actual labor costs; other costs (e.g., material costs or indirect mark-ups) are not included. Looking at the realized costs and the NPO and NWO budget received in 2021 (€1,215,000 NPO and €206,000 NWO), funds amounting to €1,052,000 remain to be spent in subsequent years. In addition, Tilburg University will receive a further subsidy in the amount of €1.2 million in 2022.
When reviewing applications, a four-month extension is used as a standard for one or more problems relating to COVID-19 (e.g., data collection, online teaching, and problems with the working environment problems) that have caused delays. When multiple or weighty issues have caused a delay in the investigation (e.g., caring for children or being detained abroad), the Central Delay Committee has granted longer extensions of up to six months.
Table 4.4.1 Expenditures in 2021
Number of researchers assisted
NPO Support Program for recovery and prospects for researchers
Equity and financial and non-financial measures
See description below.
See description below.
Other financial (and non-financial) measures
In 2021, all universities in the Netherlands received a budget from the NWO to assist scientists who have encountered delays due to COVID-19. Tilburg University used these funds—amounting to €206,000 together with the NPO funds—to extend the employment contract of temporary researchers with research delays due to COVID-19.
‘Corona Jobs Arrangement’ (extra help in the classroom, 2021)
As a result of COVID-19, support staff were assigned many new tasks in addition to their standard work. Tilburg University used the grant from the ‘Corona Jobs/Extra Help in the Classroom’ arrangement for the temporary expansion of capacity to ensure the continuity of the primary processes of the Schools. From the first grant scheme, the University used funds amounting to €172,907, supplemented by its own contribution of €32,033. From the second grant scheme, the University used funds amounting to €688,024. For example, additional proctors and program coordinators were recruited, for tasks including preparing online examinations, arranging hybrid training for lecturers, and supporting ZOOM events. Additional support was also used to record online lectures, supervise video conferences, assist lecturers with online teaching, and to deploy student teaching assistants to support ZOOM-based teaching, webinars, and events.
Researchers are encouraged to start by working with their supervisors to consider possible revisions to their research projects and possible flexibility within the Tenure Track assessment to complete the research within the duration of the employment contract. This could include using data that have already been collected, shortening the duration of field research or longitudinal research, or adjusting the research question (or a part thereof).
Throughout the pandemic, there was a stronger focus on community, with an eye to the well-being of and connections between staff and students. Various measures taken to mitigate the negative effects of the COVID-19 restrictions include the use of a company counselor, the provision of facilities for working from home, workstations on campus for vulnerable groups, support for workload, well-being and contact, online teaching (including for PhD students), various vitality programs, the introduction of the Golden Rules, and assistance with converting from in-person to online teaching and examinations. For additional information, see Section 6.2 Human Resources and Section 6.4 Well-being.