Continuation of PhD scholarship experiment hangs by a thread

It’s looking increasingly unlikely that the PhD scholarship experiment will continue. In their multi-annual budgets, the medical and law faculties are taking into account that the education minister will decide to end the experiment.

In their budgets, the medical and law faculties have taken into account that they’ll have to once again employ PhD candidates instead of giving them a scholarship from September 1, 2024 on. ‘That’s the official end of the PhD scholarship experiment and we don’t expect it to continue’, the board of the medical faculty writes.

Law dean Wilbert Kolkman announced his faculty also expects the experiment to end. Although he’s hesitant to commit fully. ‘It’s not one hundred percent certain that it will end.’ The education minister will have the final say. ‘If it does continue, that would be nice. If not, we have other plans in place.’ However, the law faculty will stop recruiting new PhD scholarship students starting next year.

The Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), which employs many scholarship PhDs, also thinks the experiment might be ending. During an FSE faculty council meeting, managing director Esther Marije Klop said that a continuation of the experiment is ‘iffy’. In other words, it hangs by a thread.

Evaluation

It all depends on the evaluation report by ResearchNed; they’re evaluating the second round of the experiment. The minister will have to base her decision on this report, which is expected to be published at the end of this year.

An earlier evaluation was performed by the University of Twente, but the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI) said the UG had tried to influence that report.

However, Marjan Koopman with the Groningen Graduate Schools sees no sign of ending the experiment in the budgets. She says it ‘makes sense for the faculties to take into account that the experiment will end. They’d be foolish not to.’

Cheaper

Ending the experiment would have great consequences for the UG. Scholarship PhDs cost tens of thousands of euros less than employed PhD candidates. The UG would be able to employ fewer PhD candidates if the experiment ends, which would in turn lead to a dip in the revenue from PhD candidates; approximately 100,000 euros for each promotion.

The experiment has been under scrutiny for a while. Employed PhDs and scholarship PhDs do practically the same work, but the latter are paid less and miss out on a lot of fringe benefits, like holiday pay or the year-end bonus. 

Commotion

Samuël Nelemans with the Groningen Graduate Interest Network (GRIN) also thinks the experiment will be ending. ‘I can’t imagine it will continue after all the commotion.’

The experiment doesn’t meet the conditions that state that different types of PhD candidates should all be treated equally. ‘The interviews that we conducted revealed that scholarship PhDs feel like second-rate PhDs.’

Rosanne Anholt with the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN), a well-known opponent of the experiment, is actually surprised that the Groningen faculties are so proactive. After all, the report on the experiment’s second round hasn’t been published yet. She says that the faculties preparing for the end of the experiment is ‘good news’.

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