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PhDs want end to scholarschip experiment

‘Distinction with regular PhDs is unfair’

PhDs want end to scholarschip experiment

A group of PhDs has written a manifesto demanding the RUG put an immediate stop to the scholarship PhD experiment. Because they are formally seen as students, they don’t have a union to act in their interest. ‘We’re forced to take action ourselves’, they say.
3 December om 8:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 December 2019
om 10:33 uur.
December 3 at 8:01 AM.
Last modified on December 4, 2019
at 10:33 AM.

Christien Boomsma

Door Christien Boomsma

3 December om 8:01 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 4 December 2019
om 10:33 uur.
Christien Boomsma

By Christien Boomsma

December 3 at 8:01 AM.
Last modified on December 4, 2019
at 10:33 AM.

Since it was published on Tuesday, the manifesto has been signed 372 times; 136 of the signatures are from scholarship PhDs. It’s supported by eight PhD councils at the RUG, as well as national organisations such at the Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN), student unions LSVb and ISO, FNV Education and Research, and the Academic Union.

Scholarship PhDs are given an 1,800 euro scholarship each month, and the RUG considers them students. This means they don’t accrue a pension, get no holiday pay, no end of year bonus, and no unemployment benefits. Regular PhDs are employed by the university and do get all those benefits. Regular PhDs also get raises fairly quickly. This leads to a difference of up to 30,000 euros per promotion track.

The manifesto’s writers, approximately twenty scholarship PhDs, says this is unjust. After all, they do the same work: they research, write a thesis, and teach, even though the latter is not a formal requirement. 

Pressure to teach

The supposed advantages to their particular position – the freedom to make their own schedule and write their own research proposal – don’t amount to much in reality. They’re not being forced to teach, but that’s pretty much only on paper. ‘We’re definitely being pressured’, says Martha Buit, one of the manifesto’s writers. ‘They’ll ask us to teach and when we refuse, they try to convince us anyway.’ Another issue is that PhDs need teaching experience if they want a career in academia.

‘The experiment did create more PhD positions than would normally be available, it doesn’t properly take into account the PhD students’ well-being’, the writers say. Scholarship PhDs are more stressed and have a higher chance of mental issues because of their uncertain position. 

Students who sign the contract aren’t sufficiently aware of the consequences of their decision, the manifesto’s writers say. Some of them don’t receive all the information until after they’ve signed, since it’s only accessible once you have a staff number. Their interests are barely represented. Their student status means they can only vote for student parties during university elections, and these parties don’t understand their position. 

Positive evaluation

All universities are free to participate in the scholarship PhD experiment, but only the RUG and the Erasmus University did so. In the first round, the RUG created 850 positions. Rotterdam only wanted fifteen positions.

Continuing criticism and little interest almost meant the experiment ended in 2018. But after a positive interim evaluation by the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS), minister Van Engelshoven decided to allow a second round with another 1135 positions. 

But the Promovendi Netwerk Nederland submitted a complaint about the evaluation. Supposedly, the research institute was denied access to the RUG’s raw data. The PNN also said that the RUG had encouraged PhDs to be positive about the experiment.

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