Influence COVID-19 on research at HZ

Paul Vader, editor HZ Discovery

Just like education, research at HZ has rapidly adapted to the situation created by the corona measures, according to an initial inventory among the research groups. The researchers have invested a lot of time and energy in adapting project plans to what is still possible in what is called the ‘new normal’.

However, some consequences are very drastic, especially when it comes to practical work. In the technical domain, field research and lab work have been postponed or continued in a slimmed-down form. In the social domain, the collection of practical data is delayed or temporarily frozen. It also appears that lecturer researchers are less productive because they work from home and because of this are obliged to spend more time on their students. The ‘order book’ of most research groups is still well-filled and the duration of many projects has been extended. The short-term financial impact is estimated to amount to a loss of around 20% and will increase further if measures are extended for a longer period of time. Professor Robert Trouwborst, who carried out the inventory for the technical domain, praises the work of the research groups: “The commitment has been enormous to keep sound project results, satisfied customers and satisfied students.”

Practical work Especially research groups that rely on field experiments, monitoring and laboratory work are hindered and delayed by the measures taken. The Aquaculture and Building with Nature research groups have had to postpone measurements and laboratory work. A lost year is imminent for measurements in the growing season. Some experiments and measurements cannot be fully performed due to the closure of the laboratories. The Delta Power research group cannot use the tidal setup in the PSD hall for measurements and the lab work of the Marine Biobased Specialties research group has come to a complete standstill. The students who otherwise spend three quarters of their time in the labs now obtain their credits with theoretical studies. For several projects, a delay of 6-12 months is foreseen, which will probably be covered by the subsidy providers with an extension of the term.

Personnel consequences Many researchers state that working from home leads to a loss of production (+ 20%), especially those who coordinate their work with the care for their (grand) children and the work (from home) of a partner. Lecturer-researchers who also have teaching tasks or supervise students need more time for this, which is sometimes at the expense of the research. Most research groups report that they have enough work for their staff. The time that was otherwise used for practical work is now spent on working out results and reporting. Some researchers experience a loss of motivation as a result. Several new researchers have been appointed during these weeks of lockdown. They have been in touch with their colleagues as best as possible and have started their research assignment. Researchers with a temporary contract indicate that they feel uncertain about the continuation of projects due to the postponement or suspension of subsidies.

Project progress Before the virus expelled the researchers from their laboratories and offices, the research groups were in good shape. Thanks to successful acquisitions, the order book was and is well-filled. Subsidy providers such as SIA have indicated that the period of subsidies awarded can be extended by four months or longer if necessary. Most research groups consider themselves able to complete the projects successfully, with or without delays. Some research groups have had to cancel symposia and workshops, but meetings have also been held online. On April 16, the Resilient Delta research group organized a successful meeting on climate and citizen participation with forty participants from all over the country. In the short term, most research groups do not expect a change in current subsidy applications, which continue to run despite the limitations. What is going to happen in the long term is uncertain. A group like Aquaculture that carries out many projects with SMEs expects fewer funds if the corona measures would lead to a recession. Domain director Bartjan Wattel shares the concerns but also likes to emphasize the great results of all the efforts: “Most of the work continues, new colleagues have been hired (and have already started) and the acquisition and application of projects also continues.”

Image online presentation April 16th