"Utrecht’s Copernicus Institute is definitely among the best in the world with regard to quality, productivity and societal relevance"

The most recent research quality assessment (2014) forming part of the Netherlands’ environmental-science and sustainability research evaluation ranked Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development as the best in the Netherlands. The foreign experts unanimously praised the exceptional quality of the institute, with this top rating endorsing Utrecht University’s leading role in research into a sustainable society.

Four criteria

The research standards of all the academic research groups in the Netherlands are regularly subjected to an in-depth review during visitations. The review criteria include quality, productivity, societal relevance and vitality. Almost forty major research groups active in environmental science and sustainability at Dutch universities were evaluated during this year’s visitation, which was led by the renowned SENSE research school. The others reviewed included groups from universities in Amsterdam (VU University), Leiden, Twente, Utrecht and Wageningen, and UNESCO-IHE (in Delft). Foreign experts reviewed the research groups on the basis of the above four criteria and compared them with others in the international arena.

Very good to excellent

According to Professor Martin Wassen, Head of the Copernicus Institute, ‘The evaluation shows that Dutch environmental and sustainability research is of very high quality. The Copernicus Institute received the highest evaluation (‘very good to excellent’), followed closely by the VU University’s Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM). Utrecht’s Copernicus Institute is definitely among the best in the world with regard to quality, productivity and societal relevance.’

Exceptional contribution

The Copernicus Institute comprises four research groups that cooperate closely: Energy & Resources (headed by Professor Ernst Worrell), Innovation Studies (headed by Professor Marko Hekkert), Environmental Governance (headed by Professor Peter Driessen) and Environmental Science (headed by Professor Martin Wassen). The scientists aim to contribute to resolving major global, and also local, environmental problems, ranging from the impact of climate change on ecosystems, sustainable energy and biomaterials, to the management of technological innovations, sustainable production and consumption chains, and adapting cities to climate change. The committees of foreign experts unanimously praised Utrecht’s exceptionable contribution to scientific knowledge in the field of sustainability.

The committee also praised its societal relevance: ‘The Copernicus research areas deal with some of the crucial concerns of our civilization, seen in a long-term perspective. The institute has a very good international reputation and its leaders are very active at a high-quality level in international organisations, NGOs, national bodies, etc. Together this reflects high societal relevance.’

Justified praise

Utrecht University has made sustainability one of its academic spearheads and the Copernicus Institute has a key role in realizing UU’s ambitions in this respect. The visitation results confirm the quality of the university’s research and the importance of its ambitions in this field. According to Wassen, ‘This evaluation represents justified praise of all our 130 staff members, who are working passionately and with great inspiration on innovations at the interfaces of disciplines. Interdisciplinary studies are a must in sustainability research, but also demand much from scientists, especially if the disciplines are very different. We have been working on this challenge since the institute was established in 2001 and are proud of what we have achieved so far. The committee has encouraged us to increase our investments, and that’s something we’ll be pleased to do.’