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LOWI: UG tried to influence evaluation of scholarship PhDs

In 2019, the UG tried to influence an evaluation of the scholarship PhD experiment. The Netherlands Board on Research Integrity (LOWI) says the fact that the investigators weren’t open about this displays ‘questionable behaviour’.

The scholarship PhD experiment has been criticised before. It allows the university to pay PhDs a scholarship of 1,840 euros a month for four years rather than hire them as employees. This is cheaper.

However, this means that scholarship PhDs are paid much less than PhDs who are employed by the UG, while they do the same work. They also don’t generate a pension and forgo a host of fringe benefits. The UG says this is in exchange for more freedom and independence.

Inequality

The PhDs have been protesting this form of inequality, however. In 2019, they published a manifesto in which they demanded an immediate end to the experiment. Minister of education Ingrid van Engelshoven also wanted to get rid of the experiment. But a positive evaluation carried out by the University of Twente’s Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) means a second round of the experiment got the green light.

It now turns out that the investigators were insufficiently open about the fact that parties at the Groningen Graduate School attempted to influence the evaluation, according to the LOWI. The scholarship PhDs who were interviewed for the evaluation were handpicked by then dean of Graduate Studies Lou de Leij.

‘I understand that the current minister has a negative view of the PhD education programme the previous minister implemented. Therefore, it’s very important that this interim evaluation goes well’, he wrote in an email, 

No raw data

It’s also said the investigators used the results of UG surveys from 2017 and 2018, but they were never given the raw data from those surveys.

The PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) had already lodged a complaint about this to the Board of Scientific Integrity at the University of Twente. They, too, called the potential influencing ‘questionable’. However, the Twente board of directors downplayed it, calling it ‘a slight failing’.

After all, the investigators did try to compensate for the influencing, by conducting extra interviews, for example. But the LOWI says these actions were insufficient. They say it involved an ‘insistent attempt by a stakeholder in the investigation to influence the results of the policy investigation’. It may not have been deliberate, but ‘that doesn’t change our conclusion that the people involved have been negligent’.

Important

The final evaluation of the experiment is currently under way. It also involves a focus group consisting of representatives of the overarching university organisation VSNU and the PNN.  The evaluation is scheduled to be finished by the end of November.

The experiment is very important to the RUG. Groningen initially had 850 scholarship PhD positions available. In late 2019, they added 650 positions. The Erasmus University of Rotterdam had fifteen positions available. Other universities declined to participate in the experiment.

You can read the full report at the LOWI website (Dutch).

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