Laboratory of Nematology: Quality with flying colours

20. Oktober 2009

Most of Wageningen's university chair groups and graduate schools have done exceedingly well, with even higher scores than in the previous round of external reviews. The university's policy on quality is bearing fruit, concludes Martin Kropff.


The Wageningen graduate schools were thrilled to bits when the international review committees presented their findings verbally in June at the close of their three-day visit. The words 'good' and 'excellent' were frequently used. This really gives recognition to the importance of developing knowledge at a time when the emphasis tends to be on applying knowledge. 'I think that we have four excellent groups, all of which deserve a top score of five', was the guess of Fre Pepping of the VLAG graduate school. But they still had to wait for the reviewers' final reports, which have been trickling in during the past few weeks.

The committees reviewed the research and training programmes of five of the seven Wageningen graduate schools this time. The environment school WIMEK and the development school Ceres had already been assessed eighteen months previously.

The external reviews also covered the chair groups responsible for research in the five schools. Most of them have exceedingly good scores. 'We want to get a minimum score of 4 for quality on a scale of 1 to 5. Eighty percent or 66 of the 82 chair groups made the grade. We have a strong position internationally', says a proud rector Martin Kropff - who is in charge of the quality policy. Every school has higher scores than in the previous review about five years ago. The best Wageningen graduate school is Experimental Plant Sciences (EPS), which scores 4.5 for quality. This is one of the reasons why this renowned top school received extra money last month from Minister Plasterk for PhD education. The graduate school in nutrition, VLAG, comes close to this status with a score of 4.4. The social sciences, mostly associated with the Mansholt Institute, have the lowest score: 3.9.

Prof. Arthur Mol, the new director of this graduate school, has mixed feelings. 'Seven years ago, we were nearly one point lower in the review. We have therefore made a big jump in quality and productivity. On the other hand: it's still not good enough. EPS is a real global top performer, while we have some way to go.'

The Wageningen standard for excellence in research has been raised in the last few years by making the quality policy more stringent. Although a score of 3 in the review reports stands for 'good', the rector and the graduate school directors do not consider that good enough. Chair groups which have scored a 3 for quality get the chance to explain to the graduate school director and their knowledge unit how they intend raising that score to a 4.

Prof. Mol: 'Over the last five years we have been harping on about the need to publish in international journals, in addition to writing books. Go for the quality magazines and publishers. We also hand out yellow cards to people who perform below par, and give top performers a pat on the shoulders.'

'The tools we have for measuring quality are getting better', says Kropff, referring to the bibliometric systems that keep tabs on the number of publications per researcher in the last five years, the journals published in, the topics and how often he or she is cited by others. 'Quality has become visible.' Feedback on these performance indicators and discussions about making improvements have given rise to a different publication culture and noticeably better quality in many chair groups, according to the rector.

The Wageningen Top Chair Groups:
Chair groups Q P R V
Entomology 5 5 5 5
Environmental Systems Analysis Group 5 5 5 5
Human Nutrition* 5 5 5 5
Microbiolog 5 5 5 5
Nematology 5 5 5 5
Phytopathology 5 5 5 5
Plant Production Systems 5 5 5 5

* excists of Nutrition and Health, Nutrition and Epidemiology, Metabolism and Genomics

Q = Quality
P = Productivity
R = Relevance

V = Vitality

5 = excellent/ world leading

4 = very good / good at international level

3 = good / good in the Netherlands

2 = satisfactory

Source: Resource