Over 100 members of university participation councils and PhD student organisations have written to the university boards to express their opposition to the experiment with PhD students.

They fear a drain of talent and a decline in the level of academic research. Furthermore, doctoral students would be less well prepared for an academic career because they were unable to teach during their doctoral programme.

The letter, which was also signed by members of the Rotterdam PhD associations Promeras and EPAR, calls on university administrators to discuss the criticism with their participation council. The authors of the letter also ask the administrators not to continue the experiment before the problems have been resolved.

Read the letter from the members of the participation councils and doctoral organisations [pdf]

No social security contributions

At the beginning of February, Minister of Education, Jet Bussemaker, announced the launch of an experiment: for the coming eight years, universities would be allowed to treat a limited number of PhD students as students instead of employees. They would then be given a grant instead of a salary, which would be cheaper for universities. The universities would not be required to pay social security contributions.

Opposition has also been voiced in the Lower House. The Labour Party (PvdA), for example, is concerned about the appeal of the Netherlands for foreign PhD students and wonders how the change will affect the quality of research. They are also worried about the extent of the experiment. 2,000 PhD students may be given a grant and the party wonders whether this number is too high.

Tilburg, Eindhoven and Nijmegen not taking part

Although university association VSNU has been appealing for years to be allowed to give PhD students a grant instead of a salary, the universities of Tilburg, Eindhoven and Nijmegen have declined to take part in the experiment. Utrecht University does not recognise the benefits yet either.

‘Interesting opportunity’

Erasmus University calls the experiment ‘an interesting opportunity to increase the number of PhD places and strengthen the position of the PhD student on the employment market, but first wants to carefully study the limiting conditions of the experiment. The current system, whereby the PhD student has more certainty, offers the advantage that PhD students are required to teach too, thus acquiring important skills.’ HOP/ES