Millions in Covid support has gone unpaid, PhDs out of luck

Approximately 70 percent of the money that the Faculty of Science and Engineering received in financial support during the Covid pandemic has not yet been spent. In the meantime, PhDs were refused extensions on their contracts because their supervisors thought there wasn’t any money.

The government gave the faculty six million euros in support between 2020 and 2022. The money was intended to help researchers whose contracts were running out due to the delays they suffered during the pandemic finish their projects after all. 

It now turns out that there is around four million euros left of those six. But supervisors were constantly being told there was ‘no money’, says artificial intelligence researcher Michael Wilkinson during an FSE faculty council meeting. Because of that, he was unable to extend the contract for two of his PhD candidates.


Council member and PhD candidate Alva Bechlenberg had asked the faculty board for the numbers and even they were surprised by them. ‘In the future, we should be more aware of whether the money actually gets spent’, said portfolio manager Esther Marije Klop.

Only the Institute for Science Education and Communication used all the Covid funds. The biologists at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences also spent quite a lot in relation to other departments; they have 339,000 euros left, 37 percent of their total funds. The physicists at the Van Swinderen Institute hardly used their support funds. They have 86 percent left: 106,000 euros. 


The board did emphasise that some money was spent. Some institutes used their own funds to bankroll contract extensions. In those cases, it will simply be a case of transferring funds. 

The board has sent another email to the research directors to make them aware of the available funds. It’s of paramount importance that people are aware, because the faculty will have to give account of the more than 4.5 million euros they received from the National Education Programme before September 1. The email had the desired effect, said Klop. ‘The following week, we received thirty applications.’



  1. Interesting read. Unfortunately, I was one of the PhD students being declined an extension in the first round and being told no funds were available. Likely for the financial-split reason between GSSE and the host institute Corine outlined above.

    Is it known whether it is / will be possible to get this sorted retroactively, even though the contract ended in the meantime? It seems that PhD students who needed an extension after the first year of corona from institutes which were strapped for cash fall between two stools this way. As fixing this goes beyond a simple funds transfer between institutes.

  2. This is very interesting, yet unfortunately very faulty information!!
    Makes you wonder whether this is sloppy journalism (possibly), sloppy FSE control (possibly) or the result of a non-functioning system (extremely likely, as AFAS is a nightmare!).
    According to the formal FSE allocation letters, the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES) has been allocated 563 K over 3 rounds to enable us to extend PhD student and Postdoc positions with a few months. Not 916 K as the figure of 339 K indicated as 37% suggests; I wish! That way we would have been able to also support PhD students that were faced with Covid restrictions and delays during the first period of their PhD.
    Moreover, during the first round, institutes were only allowed to pay for 40% of the extension of ‘promotiestudenten’ from the allocated amount, the other 60% had to come from the institute itself. This, in combination with the fact that also in rounds 2 and 3 the necessary budget for extensions was much higher than the allocated amount, has led to additional costs to GELIFES of almost 300K. We are 300K short instead of leaving 339K unspent!
    If there is any unused budget, let us know, we’ll be the first to spend it on much needed Covid extensions! I have no doubt it is the same at most of our FSE sister institutes.

    Corine, GELIFES PhD coordinator


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