Introduction to the e-magazine

The magazine kicks off with an introductory three way interview with the Recognition & Rewards steering group chairs Rianne Letschert, President Maastricht University (left) and Jeroen Geurts, Rector Magnificus VU Amsterdam (right) and the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf (middle). We put the following three questions to them.

What is your message to the readers of this magazine?

Jeroen Geurts: “I would like to take this opportunity to repeat my call for people to participate actively in meetings, activities and dialogues, whether university-wide or at the level of their own organisational unit. I would also encourage people to take initiative and organise something of their own, even if it is to criticize, question or worry about Recognition & Rewards.”

Rianne Letschert: “Jeroen makes a very important point. Now that Recognition & Rewards has started, there is no stopping it. It is no longer a question of if, but how it will happen. It is vital that we start treating it as a need-to-have rather than a nice-to-have and that employees can be confident that Recognition & Rewards will benefit them.”

Robbert Dijkgraaf: “I agree. Research funders, universities, public knowledge organisations, individual academics, myself: we all have a responsibility to support and advance the transition to a more balanced rewarding system for academics.”

In your opinion, what have been the key developments regarding the Recognition & Rewards programme since the publication of the position paper in 2019, and what is your view of those developments?

Jeroen Geurts: “In the past years, we have clearly witnessed an active dialogue about different forms of academic assessment and of talent development. Ideas that seemed unimaginable prior to 2019, such as the concept of turning teaching or impact into a career, are now open for discussion. This might seem like a small step, but is in fact a great leap forward. We have planted many seeds and watered them so that they may now take root. With planting, you cannot tell exactly what is happening below the surface, but you can be sure that the seeds take root and a network starts to develop. This is also the case with the Recognition & Rewards programme: We are now seeing the sprouts of what this could mean for academics.”

Rianne Letschert: “Those in the vanguard may feel frustrated that the transformation is taking longer than they might hope. The fact is that cultural change is a slow process and we need to pay careful attention to every step along the way. As Jeroen might have put it ‘pulling at the grass won’t make it grow any faster’. What it needs is the right soil, sufficient water and intermittent mowing. This is what we have started and will continue to do with unflagging zeal. In that sense, the fact that other sectors are asking us for input after becoming inspired by the Recognition & Rewards programme is a particularly nice recognition of our efforts.”

Robbert Dijkgraaf: “I agree that a culture change takes time. Even so, I am impressed by the level of achievement since the programme’s launch. The institutions involved are taking concrete steps towards a more balanced Recognition & Rewards practice, as this magazine attests. There have also been many international developments. Recognition & Rewards is a recurring topic during my working visits to international colleagues. I notice that the Netherlands is at the forefront of this process. The recent Agreement on Reforming Research Assessment is further evidence that the subject is high on the international agenda. A broad coalition of knowledge institutions from more than 40 countries committed to reforming the way we assess academic researchers. I consider that a milestone.”

What do you believe will be key to the Recognition & Rewards programme in the years going forward?

Robbert Dijkgraaf: “I hope that the impact of the programme will become ever more apparent to academic staff, particularly to our young academics. The first steps in an academic career are challenging enough as it is. Let us try to avoid excessive uncertainty about the way we review their performance and give them space to discover and develop their unique talents. Everyone in a position of leadership has a duty to lead by example, because the next generation of academics looks to them for inspiration.”

Rianne Letschert: “We must continue to work and learn together, both at the faculty and the university level, and be respectful of the distinctive identity of each institution. In other words, we should practice open science, team science and leadership.

This means experimentation and continuous adjustment on the basis of developments and new insights. Mistakes will made along the way, and it is up to us to learn from them.”

Jeroen Geurts: “Exactly. We must continue this systemic transition in academia, particularly at universities. At the same time, we must not shy away from discussing important dilemmas, such as how the Recognition & Rewards programme will affect the national and international ranking and reputation of our universities and research centres, both nationally and internationally. How might the programme affect rankings that relate to the quality of our education? Or the impact of science on society?

Letting go of a system and culture to develop a different perspective puts us in uncharted territory, which is a daunting prospect. It requires that we accept uncertainty, stay flexible, listen and trust each other and dare to go forward.

We are already working on this and must continue to do so without hesitation.”

Rianne Letschert: “I also hope that Recognition & Rewards will become embedded in the collective labour agreement for our sector. This is important both as a symbolic gesture in the context of cultural change and for the purpose of more binding agreements.”

Earlier, in February 2022 during the Recognition & Rewards Festival, Rianne Letschert and Jeroen Geurts interviewed Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Robbert Dijkgraaf. In this videoclip you can rewatch this interview.