The Cabinet keeps the door shut for new PhD students

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The Cabinet is not going to offer universities the chance to recruit more PhD students. This was explained by Minister Van Engelshoven as an answer to questions from GroenLinks

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Most Dutch PhD students are employed by their university. They receive a salary and build up a pension. But there are also PhD students who only get a scholarship: these students are cheaper.

In the past, it was not allowed to give PhD students a scholarship instead of a salary, even though it sometimes did happen. After years of lobbying - and a few lawsuits - there was an experiment under the previous cabinet: universities were allowed to try out the scholarship system.

Only Groningen and Rotterdam
Since 2016, a total of two thousand scholarship PhD students were allowed to start. But the universities had little interest in the experiment. Only the University of Groningen was eager and received permission for 850 PhD students. Furthermore, fifteen places were allocated to the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The current experiment will no longer be expanded, according to Minister Van Engelshoven's answers to written questions from GroenLinks. She will not open a second round in which universities can submit an request.

Critics believe that PhD students are underpaid. After all, all PhD students carry out scientific research and write a dissertation. Why would you pay one less than the other?

But proponents believe that obtaining a PhD in a study program is something different than getting a PhD while being employed by the university: for example, the employees also teach more classes. Furthermore, the PhD student is very common abroad, so why not here as well?

Difference between student and employee
Van Engelshoven defends this course of events in her answers. “The position of the PhD student is fundamentally different from that of the employee-PhD position,” she explains. According to her there is no question of ‘equal work’, so these PhD students do not have to get the same salary either.

An interim evaluation of the experiment should take place soon and the final evaluation will follow at the end of 2021. This should show whether the universities using the scholarship system can educate more PhD students and what would be the consequences for the scientific quality.

Changing legislation
The previous cabinet actually wanted to change the law immediately: universities could then choose whether they would treat the PhD positions as employees or as students themselves. After fierce criticism from the Council of State, then PvdA Minister Bussemaker rejected this and started an experiment first. Especially coalition partner VVD was displeased with this.

 

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