On 1 September, the UG started the experiment which aims to attract PhD scholarship students in addition to the existing group of PhD students on a contract. The scholarship students form an entirely new category of students who write their own proposals, pursue specifically targeted degree programmes and find their own supervisors. PhD scholarship students receive an attractive scholarship during the experiment, which makes the experiment a great opportunity for starting PhD students. By now, over one hundred PhD scholarship students have started their PhD programme at the UG as part of this experiment.
After Dutch Parliament gave its permission to appoint PhD scholarship students in the Netherlands, in alignment with the rest of the world, the government ratified a General Administrative Order that enables this method of financing. The University of Groningen and Erasmus University Rotterdam applied for and were granted permission to carry out this experiment in 2016. The PhD Candidates Network of the Netherlands (PNN) has objected to the experiment from the beginning and issued a press release on 18 October based on information obtained through a Public Access request under the Government Information Act (WOB). In this press release, PNN misrepresents the facts. The University of Groningen would like to explain once more why it finds this experiment important and how it approaches the experiment.
Lou de Leij, the Dean of Groningen Graduate Schools, stresses that the UG is fully compliant with the provisions of the General Administrative Order). ‘The UG submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) that had been discussed and unanimously approved by the University Council beforehand. All Faculty councils were informed about the proposal, which was subsequently submitted to the Ministry and approved without amendments. This procedure is watertight. Of course we adhere to the agreements made with the Ministry. In addition, there has been plenty of opportunity for input within the University as well as dialogue with the representatives of PhD students in Groningen. This leads to the conclusion that there is broad support for the experiment in Groningen.’
The University of Groningen guarantees that all current PhD tracks can be completed should the experiment with the PhD scholarship students be terminated early. De Leij: ‘Funding is secure. That is also what our application says. We guarantee our PhD students the right to finish their degree if the experiment ends early. This has also been agreed with the University Council. There is no need to reserve extra money for this purpose. Our means are sufficient to uphold this guarantee for all PhD students already attracted and those still to be attracted under the experiment.’
The PhD scholarship students in the experiment receive the same net salary as starting PhD students on a contract, without the extra benefits from the Collective Labour Agreement (CAO) and without pension accrual. This applies to both Dutch PhD students and foreign PhD scholarship students. ‘This raises the generally small scholarships of foreign PhD students to the starting level of PhD students on a contract’, says Marjan Koopmans, Project Manager Graduate Schools. ‘In addition, this brings all Dutch and foreign PhD scholarship students under Dutch social security, allowing them to claim childcare allowance, for instance.’
The Minister of Education, Bussemaker, has stressed on multiple occasions that the Netherlands needs more PhD students, not only in academia, but also to meet the increasing demand from business and society at large. ‘For this reason, we offer intensive career coaching to our PhD students’, says Koopmans. ‘It is important that PhD students discover early on which career trajectories appeal to them, so that there is life after their thesis defence. To achieve this, we guide our PhD students towards the next step in their careers for four years, thus offering them a great PhD programme.’
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