Although money is often tight for this group, an outgoing cabinet cannot do a whole lot about this, Minister Dijkgraaf believes. More than anything, international PhD candidates who struggle to make ends meet with scholarships from their home countries should receive better information on what awaits them in the Netherlands, is his conclusion.

Less than minimum wage

There are around 3,800 international PhD candidates on scholarships at Dutch universities. On average they receive 1,400 euros per month, which is less than the minimum wage, and some have to make do with as little as 700 euros, research from PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) showed.

Some universities therefore choose to supplement the scholarship, but this involves a risk. It’s entirely possible they’ll be imposed an additional tax assessment afterwards, because sometimes the Tax and Customs Administration sees the supplement as a type of salary, which comes with premiums and taxes.

Hire them

Without an employment contract, PhD candidates on scholarships aren’t entitled to rent allowance or childcare allowance. Health insurance is not properly arranged for them either. Wouldn’t it be better, therefore, if universities hired all of these PhD candidates as employees? This was suggested by PNN in September. It would solve a lot of problems in one fell swoop.

But Dijkgraaf thinks this would lead to new problems, he now writes. If universities were to hire these PhD candidates, this would cost a lot of money. “And it would mean fewer PhD candidates come to the Netherlands on these kinds of programmes”, writes the Minister. What’s more, it is not up to him whom the universities hire or don’t hire.

Additional tax assessment

The minister cannot put universities’ minds at ease about possible additional tax assessments from the Tax and Customs Administration either. After all, they take case-to-case decisions based on individual circumstances, the Minister explains. And they always do so afterwards.

This puts him in a bit of a pickle, because the House of Representatives already asked him in 2022 to work together with other government institutions to make sure universities don’t face fiscal surprises after supplementing the scholarships of international PhD candidates. A motion by the CDA party on this was adopted unanimously last year.


Instead, the Minister is asking the universities to level the playing field themselves, he writes in his letter to the House. Universities could agree with each other on how to deal with PhD candidates on scholarships. Most of all, however, international PhD candidates should “receive better information on what they can expect before coming to the Netherlands for their PhD research”.

PhD Network Netherlands chair Benthe van Wanrooij is surprised the Minister puts the ball in the court of the universities. “The Minister is simply not implementing the motion, nor does he provide any guidelines to universities on how they can properly supplement the scholarships. We hope the universities do set out in search of a solution for the precarious situations of these PhD candidates.”

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