PhD candidates couldn't work on the way they used to do before the corona crisis. Photoffoto DUB

UU establishes Covid Fund for PhD candidates and Postdocs

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The UU is establishing an emergency fund to extend the contracts of PhD candidates and Postdocs who’ve faced issues as a result of the corona crisis. The university board estimates the fund will cost 3 to 6 million euros.

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The corona era has caused delays in research for a number of PhD candidates and Postdocs. This is especially a problem for young researchers whose contracts are ending. The university board does not wish to wait for compensation from the government.

In order to provide clarity to PhD candidates and Postdocs, the university has now established a Covid Fund. “We’ve noticed that this is an urgent issue, and we didn’t want to wait for compensation from the government,” says vice president Annetje Ottow in an interview with DUB which we’ll publish on Monday.

In the first phase, the university will mainly look at PhD candidates. If their contracts end before January 1, 2021, they are eligible for a three-month contract extension. In emergencies, a six-month extension may be possible as well.

At a later stage, the board wants to offer a three-month extension to PhD candidates whose contract ends between January 1 and July 1, 2021. But before they can be eligible for the extension, they first have to see whether the research delays can be solved by other means. Moreover, the university will ask a contribution of 50 percent from the faculties.

The university will also introduce an extension plan for Postdocs with a one-year contract that ends or will end between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. They, too, can be eligible for a three-month extension. With this group, the check for necessity of the extension is also applicable, and here, too, the faculty is expected to contribute 50 percent.

The costs of the fund are estimated at three million euros for the PhD candidates who are almost finished with their PhD tracks. For this group, 1.6 million euros will be provided from the salary negotiations of the collective labour agreements, the rest will be reserved from the university’s general reserves. In the collective labour agreement, an agreement is included that states 0.45 percent of the additional money will be spent on solving issues that have arisen as a result of the corona crisis. In the case of the UU employees, that amounts to 1.6 million euros. The university has discussed this expenditure with the unions in the Local Consultations.

The money needed to finance the plans for the other groups may, it is expected, also be as much as three million euros, of which the faculties will pay half.

Maastricht reserves 5 million
Earlier this week, Maastricht University announced it would reserve at least five million euros to soften the harshest blows of the coronavirus. The main goal is to reduce the high workloads. “The money is meant to actually help teachers and support staff, in view of the start in September,” says rector Rianne Letschert. “We have to invest and use our reserves now. Those reserves are meant for times of crisis.” Some of the money will also be used for PhD candidates.

It remains unclear whether other institutions will also reserve funds for the effects of the corona crisis. Most universities say they don’t have a clear picture yet. Utrecht is now reserving money for PhD candidates and Postdocs. Aside from this, the board also approved an additional 2.9 million euros for education earlier this week, which will partially be used for combatting workloads.

Tilburg University says it’s keeping education going by employing extra staff where needed. The university is also polling among employees to see where problems may arise.

It’s also clear that the corona crisis will have financial consequences for all institutions. The University of Twente, for example, has already lost 1.4 million euros, from the extra costs of working remotely and the lack of income from cultural and sports facilities.

If the other universities follow the examples of Utrecht and Maastricht, the total costs could amount to 63 to 85 million euros, according to calculations done by the Higher Education Press.

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