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UG PhD programme off to a great start

Participants positive
20 December 2017

The University of Groningen (UG) started the PhD scholarship programme well over a year ago. PhD students in this programme have student status, the opportunity to shape their own research and receive targeted training for a career after finishing their PhD. Registration exceeds expectations, with almost 500 PhD students participating in the first 16 months. A recent evaluation at the request of the University Council shows that the participants are very satisfied with the programme.

On 1 September 2016, the kick-off took place of the national PhD Scholarship Programme Experiment of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, with room for 2,000 PhD students. The UG obtained permission to fill 850 spots in a 5-year period. The participating PhD students come from all UG faculties. The Minister of Education uses this 8-year experiment to investigate whether a system in which PhD students have student status and receive a scholarship has added value next to the existing system in which PhD students have employee status. Almost all other European countries have such a mixed system. Besides the University of Groningen, Erasmus University Rotterdam is the only other participant in the experiment, offering 15 spots.

The social and innovative system designed by the UG has great appeal, as the unexpectedly large number of applicants shows, and the programme is highly appreciated by the PhD students according to an independent evaluation. First-year PhD students with student status and employee-status PhD students were questioned on various aspects of their PhD programme. This reveals that student-status PhD students are at least as satisfied as their colleagues with employee status when it comes to rights and facilities, supervision and anchoring in the research group. Another important signal is that the number of employee-status PhD students at the University of Groningen has not declined. This warrants the tentative conclusion that both types of PhD students can coexist in the workplace.

Further career
One difference with employee-status PhD students is that student-status PhD students are free to write their own research proposal and choose their own supervisors, giving a boost to research driven by curiosity. Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken: ‘Our student-status PhD students follow a special programme which prepares them well for their future careers, also including, of course, future careers outside academia. This is important, as the Minister wants to train sufficient numbers of highly skilled knowledge workers to move into key positions in society, given that the Netherlands has relatively few PhD graduates compared to other European countries.’

Thanks to the lower cost of the programme, more students will have the opportunity to obtain a PhD degree. The UG or UMCG pay wage taxes and the social security contributions on the scholarships. This gives student-status phD students the same social security rights as PhD students with employee status, while they receive roughly the same monthly compensation as first-year employee-status PhD students.

Foreign PhD students
Foreign PhD students who come to Groningen on a scholarship from their own country form a special group within PhD programme. They receive a supplement to their scholarship out of programme funds to raise their income to the same level as that of PhD students with a full scholarship, thus finally providing this group with a clear social and legal status as well. Roughly half of all registered PhD students with student status are foreign PhD students on scholarships from their respective home countries, whereas the other half receive a full scholarship from the UG or the UMCG.

Earlier this autumn, Prof. Lou de Leij (Dean of the Groningen Graduate Schools) and Dr Marjan Koopmans (Project Leader of the Groningen Graduate Schools) wrote an opinionpiece on the subject of PhD students on

Last modified:20 December 2017 10.08 a.m.
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