USG research programme 'excellent' according to international review committee

An international review committee recently assessed the public administration research programmes of four universities. The research programme of the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG) is deemed 'excellent' and 'world leading'. Research Director Prof. Judith van Erp, Head of Department Prof. Paul Boselie and Vice Dean for Societal Impact, Prof. Mirko Noordegraaf are proud, and regard the positive assessment as a reward for the years of effort in the field of Open Science. Working on interdisciplinarity, team spirit, pluriformous research careers and the societal impact of research can also lead to reaching the international top in your field, the report shows. This fits in very well with the direction Utrecht University has chosen in its Strategic Plan for 2021-2025.

Public Administration and Organisation Science is a scientific discipline that covers classic themes but is also closely linked to current events. Issues of governance and organisation, whether they concern good governance, integrity or the rule of law, supervision and accountability or the tax benefits scandal, the fight against terrorism or civil service leadership are daily business. These are the topics for interdisciplinary and innovative public administration research. The committee that assessed the research programmes of the universities of Leiden, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht concludes that Dutch public administration and organisation science researchers are currently shaping the international development of the discipline.

Onderzoeksvisitatie USBO 2020

‘One of the few most influential research groups in the world in its field’

The fact that the Public Matters research programme of the Utrecht University School of Governance (USG) itself was assessed as 'excellent' on each of the criteria is, of course, a very pleasant side effect. According to USG's research team, it is a reward for the innovation in shaping what science is, which it has realised in recent years. It shows that ‘publish or perish’ to get to the international top of your field is no longer the only way to go.

'The committee has actually based its assessment on the future oriented principles of open science,' says Paul Boselie. ‘Public engagement, new forms of assessment, doing research that is meaningful to society. We have worked on this, it has been appreciated by the committee and therein lies the basis for the future. It is clear that Open Science can in fact lead to excellence. We can be proud of that. And on top of that we are also a great place to work.’

Judith van Erp: 'The committee really had an eye for the combination of rigour and relevance: societally valuable, high-quality research. That can also result in large research grants or publications in top journals'.

‘It shows that USG has 'rigorous relevance,’ says Mirko Noordegraaf.

Open Science can in fact lead to excellence.

Paul Boselie
Paul Boselie

In accordance with the guidelines of the Standard Evaluation Protocol (SEP), the committee calls the research programme of USG; ‘world leading, excellent’. In summary, it states: ‘The research unit has been shown to be one of the few most influential research groups in the world in its particular field, (…) makes an outstanding contribution to society and (…) is excellently equipped for the future.’

Through cooperation towards excellence

According to the committee, USG remains a strong leader in public administration and organisational science research in the Netherlands and internationally. Building on its strengths, the Utrecht-based department has launched a significant expansion of its programme during this assessment period. The growth in staff and scope has contributed to corresponding increases in aggregate research productivity and societal impact, increased diversification of its scholarship and research capacities, and commendable outreach and meaningful collaboration with academic and societal partners.

We want to pay more attention to the young scientists, do the maximum to support them.

Judith van Erp
Judith van Erp

‘USG has indeed grown considerably, partly as a result of the research successes,' says Judith van Erp, 'but we have nevertheless managed to retain our small-scale and informal character. We have not become too formal or bureaucratic. Still, we have to find the right balance, especially when it comes to the young researchers. Many different demands are made on them. Within the uncertainty that characterises Dutch science funding, we want to do the maximum to support them. We want more attention for them.’

Paul Boselie wants to underline the importance of collegiality and cooperation: 'We are not a club of Nobel Prize winners and we never will be. Our position in the international top does not depend on  a few iconic figures: this assessment regards our entire institute, with, simply, very good people, who achieve something together. I am proud of their collective achievement.’

Growth, appreciation and further development

Mirko Noordegraaf, also responsible for the research programme during the period under review, is also pleased with the committee's assessment: 'Especially because this is a collective USG achievement, which shows our academic strength, with emphasis on recognisable research themes, our internal and external connections, and our focus on societal issues. The committee shows that we 'really matter' in academia, but also in terms of a community and added value to society.'

‘2020 was an anniversary year for USG,' Paul Boselie says. ‘We have been in existence for 20 years but unfortunately have not yet been able to celebrate. That is a pity, because we can now see that we have grown steadily, also in appreciation. The review in 2008 was 'satisfactory to good', that of 2014 'good to very good' and we are now rated 'excellent'. The development has continued, with this as a result.

That is wonderful of course, but USG does not stand still,’ he adds. ‘There are several points we want to take up . In terms of the  content of our programme, we want to strengthen our research on the themes of digitisation and sustainability. And we would prefer to do that in a building that offers space to all our activities, and our somewhat idiosyncratic research culture. Just like in our teaching, where the small scale, intensive and interactivity are also appreciated.’

‘With this very flattering committee opinion on USG, you might think: 'we're done'. But nothing could be further from the truth,' Mirko Noordegraaf concludes. ‘We will continue to develop. The vitality of USG – also noted by the review committee - makes this possible.’

Review Committee

The Board of the four participating universities appointed the following members of the Committee for the research review: Prof. Jean Hartley – The Open University UK (chair), Prof. Sabine Kuhlmann – University of Potsdam, Prof. Peter Munk Christiansen – Aarhus University, Prof. Wouter Van Dooren – Universiteit van Antwerpen, Prof. Kirk Emerson – University of Arizona, Dr. Ellen Fobé Msc (recently completed PhD) University of Leuven. Drs. Esther Poort of De Onderzoekerij has operated as the Committee secretary.


Would you like to know more about the Research Programme of Utrecht University School of Governance (USG), please contact Research director prof. Judith van Erp: