News - May 12, 2016

Groningen is allowed to start with 850 PhD students

The university of Groningen is allowed to start recruiting 850 PhD students over the coming years. They will not receive a salary, but will receive a scholarship which is cheaper than a normal PhD candidate.

Photo: Katie Humphry

In the Netherlands PhD candidates are usually employed by the university. They receive a salary, build up a pension and after discharge they are entitled to unemployment benefits. This makes them expensive in comparison with PhD students abroad, who make ends meet with a scholarship.

For years universities have lobbied – particularly the university of Groningen – to also introduce Dutch PhD students. Now an experiment will start to see if the new system works.

Groningen is the only university which is prepared for this new step. Most of the others are hesitant or want to join later on. Also Wageningen University repeatedly indicated that they wanted to carry on treating PhD candidates as employees. Only the Erasmus University in Rotterdam also requested it, but for only fifteen PhD position. This was also granted.

In Groningen they immediately sought the limits of the experiment. Actually they were only allowed to have three years where PhD students started and then the university had to wait until the experiment was evaluated.

‘That would have been very unfortunate’, the dean Lou de Leij of the Groningen graduate school thinks. ‘We will spread the 850 PhD students across five years, the ministry agreed with this. Otherwise we would have to wait for three years because the evaluation will only be after six years.’

But what if the ministry will stop with the PhD students because the evaluation is unfavourable? De Leij: ‘We guarantee that they can finish their PhD. But we do not assume that the experiment will stop nor that it will fail.’

The PhD students will receive a ‘generous scholarship’ of 1,700 euro a month. All the faculties of Groningen are participating, and De Leij is proud of this. ‘They all had to approve it. And also the university board.’

We guarantee that they can finish their PhD. But we do not assume that the experiment will stop nor that it will fail.
Lou de Leij, dean of the Groningen Graduate School

The experiment is meant to be able to recruit more PhD candidates. This is only for PhD candidates for which the university frees money from so named first flow of funds. PhD candidates remain normal employees when they are appointed with a research subsidy (second flow of funds) or are hired for research in cooperation with the business sector (third flow of funds).

A strong political battle preceded the experiment. The cabinet wanted to make PhD students legally possible, but after harsh criticism from the Council of State Bussemaker refrained. The governing party VVD was baffled. Subsequently the experiment itself was delayed.

Previously universities appointed scholarships to PhD candidates. They then allowed it to become a lawsuit which they constantly lost. Only Groningen won once, but the political discussion continued as if this had not happened. .