Wetenschap - 18 mei 1995

Money at Centre of Discrimination Issue

Money at Centre of Discrimination Issue

We continue the story from last week's news on the strike of foreign PhD students at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague.


I was there in September 1992 when the ISS (Institute of Social Studies) celebrated the fact that it had received university status for its PhD qualification, the undivided doctorate," tells Ashesh Ambasta from India, PhD student since 1991. So you could say that, technically, since then the foreign PhD students have been doing research considered equal to Oio and Aio research (Dutch researchers and research assistants), but we have been discriminated against by the fact that our stipends have been considerably less. It's like we don't deserve to receive the same amount of money but we are expected to work just as hard." The striking students receive 825 guilders per month less than their Dutch colleagues. This is a fundamental issue for these students, since their ability to bring family members over to the Netherlands for the duration of their study depends upon whether they can secure the minimum amount of money requested by the Ministry of Justice.

The whole thing really stinks," recounts Alex Izurieta, ISS PhD candidate from Ecuador. We think that our situation here is very ironic, especially when you consider that the Netherlands has an international reputation for respecting and upholding human rights and taking a stand against discrimination. The Institute, while preaching development theory, is dragging its feet on this equality issue. Even to make a phone call within the Netherlands, I need to go to the PhD Secretary and fill out a form regarding who I am going to call, where and why and how long I expect the call to be. Then I have to hand that paper to porter downstairs, and I have to run back upstairs to the desk so I can make the connection. If it disconnects, I have to do the whole thing again. It is pretty paternalistic."

Less Than Half of One Percent

Alex Izurieta continues to agonize, You can imagine how frustrating it is when you realize that their money shortage isn't perhaps as much of an emergency as the Institute would have you believe. The top-up we are requesting for our stipends comes to 0.48% of their 1995 budget - less than half of one percent! The public minutes of the Executive Council's April 5th meeting indicate that the Institute approved the finalization of a 2 month study into technical and administration aspects of the Institute, and they okayed a 61,000 guilder budget increase for that two month study, which had already had received 30,000 guilders. We are not saying that research should have been cancelled and that we should have received the money instead, but it would seem from the minutes that there was no great debate surrounding that increase. Why then are they making such a fuss about equalizing our stipends? Where do their priorities lie?"

Pascal Mihyo, Dean of Studies and member of the Executive Council does feel that the PhD scholars are a priority, The situation is quite complicated. I personally feel that it is morally wrong for one ministry to bring students here to study from around the world, but then to have another ministry tell them that the money which they receive is insufficient for them to be with their families. The problem is that the budget we have isn't as flexible as they think it is. I also think that it is a dangerous trap to try to argue that they should receive the same amount of money as that which the Oio and Aio scholars are receiving. It is a totally different situation, so in that sense you cannot talk about inequality. The foreign students here aren't allowed to work or have a contract for employment. What if next year the Ministry was to say Aio and Oio scholars get only 1250 guilders a month, a cut of around 1000 guilders? That really wouldn't solve the problem of meeting
the requirements set by the Ministry of Justice. We've contacted the Ministry about this before - to no avail, and we are trying to think of more long term solutions. This will mean that the Ministry will need to be involved again."

Minister Pronk

Mr. Seroo of the public relations desk of the Ministry of Development Cooperation, (the ministry responsible for the Netherlands Fellowship Programme which constitutes the main source of funding for foreign students throughout the Netherlands), tells, The basic rate which we give out to all the international education institutions is the same in terms of living expenses. This is 1500 guilders per month per person. The institutions themselves might add something on top of this, but that is their decision. They have their own ways of dealing with their finances and perhaps they can find another way to handle things. In any case you cannot compare a scholarship to an Aio working contract. That is another issue." When questioned about the problem of the monthly stipend being less than the required amount for the sponsoring of family members, Mr. Seroo continued, On May 30th, Minister Pronk will have a meeting with the Federation of International Education Institutions in t
he Netherlands (FION). It is likely that this problem will be raised in the discussion."

Mr. van Heijst of the Wageningen Agricultural University's Foreign Office (Bureau Buitenland), can understand why ISS scholars are frustrated. I can imagine that it is quite frustrating to be here for four years without being able to see your family. The situation in Wageningen is totally different from what is happening at the ISS. PhD scholars here are in the Sandwich Programme, and that means that they only spend 6 months here before heading back home to do the research. That is better for them, and their home country. MSc and PhD fellowships are based on the Netherlands Fellowship programme norms of 1500 guilders a month. This is not enough to bring a family member along, but the Sandwich PhD students are here for such a short time and they get to see their families again when they go back for research."

The issue remains that if the amount of money given to scholars sinks below the amount set by the Ministry of Justice as a minimum for supporting a family, then foreign students will be forced to circumvent the rules in order to live with loved ones for the duration of their research, or they will be forced to be isolated from family for many years. In light of the fact that it is quite normal that Dutch PhD scholars take their partners with them for the months or years during which they must do their field work, the rules would seem to punish the foreign candidate and his or her family. At the ISS the PhD scholars will continue to strike until they feel that the discriminatory situation has been corrected.

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