Wetenschap - 17 maart 2011

VSNU gets booby prize for good management

The PhD candidates Network of the Netherlands (PNN) will today present a new prize to the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). The 'Hosni Mubarak Prize for Good Management' will be handed to VSNU president Sybold Noorda.

With this, the PNN makes its protest against the VSNU's proposal not to pay Dutch PhD candidates a salary, and to grant them a scholarship instead. This would be made possible if state secretary Halbe Zijlstra amends the law. PNN members praise the way in which Noorda, despite widespread opposition, persists in holding on to regulations which are extremely detrimental to university staff and students and his attempt to 'drive The Netherlands out of the top 100 knowledge economies'. 
Universities are divided
The universities are divided in their opinions concerning the PhD scholarship. Nijmegen, Twente and Wageningen are against it. 'It's already particularly difficult at present to get PhD candidates in the technical research fields', says the University of Twente. 'If getting a PhD degree becomes unattractive financially, fewer Dutch graduates will take this step and head for the business sector instead.'
The universities in Maastricht and Groningen welcome the plan. Groningen calls Zijlstra's intention 'excellent and very sensible'. Another group of universities - under which are Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam - makes a distinction between Dutch and foreign PhD candidates. 'We don't want to get rid of the employee PhD candidate, but PhD candidates  fit more in the international formula of the PhD student. That is better for foreign candidates', says the Erasmus University. This view is in line with the way things are in Wageningen, where the Dutch trainee research assistant gets a salary and the foreign PhD candidate is admitted on the basis of a scholarship. 
According to PNN, VSNU president Sijbolt Noorda is the driving force behind the lobby to downgrade young university researchers from employee to scholarship student status. When Noorda was the chairman of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) between 1998 and 2006, he already had a conflict with researchers and unions about the scholarship system which he wanted to implement then. The UvA was held back in 2006 when the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that PhD candidates are employees, and are entitled to all related rights and obligations. - Higher Education Press Agency / Albert Sikkema

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