Notes from the United States

Renske Heemskerk
Renske Heemskerk works as Education and Scientific Attaché at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, D.C. and writes about her experiences there.

I have been working as education and scientific attaché at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington, D.C. since the summer of 2023. My home base is the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), which is also where I worked, in the Higher Education and Student Finance Department, before heading off to the US.

In my current role, I combine my knowledge of Dutch higher education and research with my experiences in the US. Around 25 years ago, I was a senior at Wiscasset Middle High School in Maine, and I spent six months studying at Boston College during my international relations course. Before plunging into the world of higher education and research, I worked at the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, a job that often took me to the East Coast of the US. That is why it is extra special for me to be working here as education and scientific attaché.

Relevant networks

With colleagues from various policy departments within the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and in dialogue with the key players involved (including the Dutch Research Council (NWO)), I have mapped out a path for the coming years. My focus is on setting up and maintaining a relevant (diplomatic) network for the Ministry. Examples include contacts with the Federal government, other embassies and, of course, higher education institutions. Those networks are relevant, as they facilitate mutual learning between international partners at policy level. The themes I concentrate on are knowledge security, diversity and Recognition & Rewards.

Better understanding

I have established contact with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other relevant government organisations that focus on research – including the National Institutes of Health, the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) and the United States Department of Energy – for the Recognition & Rewards programme aspect. All these organisations play a role at Federal level when it comes to research. The debate in the US focuses mainly on Public Access and Open Science. In August 2022, the OSTP issued a memorandum on the topic of ‘Ensuring Free, Immediate and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research’ (the ‘Nelson Memorandum’). The sector is in the process of working out how this memorandum can be put into practice within institutions. As well as discussions at Federal level, I am also talking to universities about several subjects including this one to gain a better understanding of the effect of Federal policy at institution level. For instance, I have spoken to the Vice Provost and University Librarians at Columbia University and Yale.

Policy dialogue

My role is aimed at facilitating policy dialogue – in other words, identifying ways in which colleagues on either side of the ocean can learn from each other. Building on this year’s Global Research Council meeting, a deep-dive online dialogue between colleagues from the Federal organisations in D.C. and Dutch colleagues from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the NWO and Universiteiten van Nederland is now starting. The first meeting will take place in November, with mutual learning being the main objective. Where is the debate at on either side of the ocean, how do we interpret terminology and how can we help each advance this theme in a deeper dialogue? Facilitating sessions such as these is very worthwhile because it also helps to get everyone on the same page.

Mutual learning

In addition to this, I am also working on the Dutch Network for Academics in the US (DNA-US). The network was launched last year at UC Berkeley by Minister Dijkgraaf in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Máxima. It now has around 60 members and is aimed at bringing together Dutch academics working at American universities. The focus is on rolling out the network through local chapters, with one in Boston and one in the Bay Area now up and running. This network provides a great way of gaining knowledge from people who have been working here for some time and involving them in policy in the Netherlands. It is therefore another opportunity for mutual learning in the area of Recognition & Rewards. It is also fun to talk to them about their experiences of working and living in the US and learning about the different academic climate here.

If you are interested in the work I am doing here, feel free to contact me at: