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In the Netherlands, graduate training typically takes place at university-located research schools. This system of research schools was established by the Dutch Minister for Education and Science as a system to combine training of PhD students with high-quality research, closely linked to the universities, but with some amount of discretionary power given to the research schools, based on six-year arrangements signed by the University Boards.

Their overall quality of the research schools is controlled through an accreditation by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The research schools are embedded in university faculties, may be mono-disciplinary as well as multidisciplinary, and may have a local or an interuniversity character. ICO is one of the interuniversity research schools, in which the efforts and various expertises of the participants are combined.