PhD students: ‘Ensure supervision is good enough’

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We need stricter checks of the guidance of PhD students, says the PhD Network Netherlands. The network made the statements after news of possible fraud at Tilburg University.

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A professor of social sciences at Tilburg University had partially outsourced the supervision of his PhD students. Among others, he made several payments of 30.000 euros to a beauty salon owned by his niece.

The board of directors at Tilburg University reported him with the police last year and started a research committee. They concluded that while the dissertations were okay, there were definite gaps in the supervision the PhD students received.

Put a stop to this 
The PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) calls the situation worrisome. “How is it possible that no one put a stop to this?” wonders chairman Rolf van Wegberg. He is afraid of encountering similar incidents. “There are more PhD students, but the number of supervisors has remained the same. In Tilburg, the professor was also Dean of his faculty. Did he even have enough time to supervise?”

Universities need to question whether they have enough staff for the supervision of PhD students and need to ensure that tasks aren’t outsourced like this, Van Wegberg says. Of course universities can collaborate with companies, but they do need to create some form of bond with their PhD students.

Shocked
In Tilburg, people are understandably shocked. The local representation of PhD students (TiPP) and the university board will map out the issues in PhD supervision together. “In an institution where research is fundamental, we have the duty to research the way we function, too,” says TiPP member Martijn Stoutjesdijk.

PNN wants the association of universities VSNU to talk to its members about their responsibility to supervise and guide their PhD students ‘adequately and personally’.

The VSNU says the Tilburg case “does not call for a massive sharpening of supervisions and checks”, but states it’s always a good thing to stay alert about the quality of the guidance.

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