Minister puts definitive end to scholarship PhD experiment (the UG has 1,500 of those)

The Scholarship PhD Experiment will definitively end after 2024, says Robbert Dijkgraaf, minister of Education, Culture, and Science after a thorough analysis of the project by research agency ResearchNed.

According to the minister, this analysis shows there’s ‘no convincing added value’ to the experiment. The ‘lack of support’ also weighed heavily, writes Dijkgraaf in a letter to the Lower House expanding on his decision.

‘The addition to the system of scholarship PhDs as a category of PhD candidates doesn’t match my aspiration for more peace and space in the academic system or a better position for all researchers.’

No new positions

That means the UG will not be given any new scholarship PhD positions after 2024. The UG has hired the most scholarship PhDs by far: 1,500. Other universities were less interested in the experiment. Only the Erasmus University in Rotterdam participated to a limited extent in the first round, creating fifteen positions.

People currently working as scholarship PhDs at the UG will finish their track. If they’re not finished with their work by August 2024, they will become officially employed PhD candidates.


The UG is a great proponent of the experiment, which started in 2016. It enabled universities to, instead of hiring them as employees, pay PhD candidates a scholarship of approximately 1,800 euros a month.

This would allow PhDs more room to write their own research proposal and more freedom in general. At the same time, it would save universities money, enabling them to graduate more PhD candidates.

Fewer rights

But scholarship PhDs also have fewer rights: they don’t get a pension, they don’t get any vacation money, and they have no fringe benefits. They’ve also felt underappreciated, since they do the same work as employed PhDs, without any of the perks. A 2019 manifest that called for the immediate scrapping of the experiment was signed by hundreds of people.

This dissatisfaction was an important reason for the decision to end the experiment, the minister writes. The analysis mentions that the division has led to different ‘camps’. ‘The scholarship PhDs have expressed their feelings of inequality and underappreciation several times during the experiment, the minister’s letter reads. ‘I can tell that there is very little support for this type of PhD education.’

Labour market

The experiment was supposed to answer the question of whether there was room for scholarship PhDs without pushing employed PhDs out of the labour market, increasing the total number of PhD positions available. The experiment was also an attempt to see whether PhDs would have a better chance of handing their own proposals and whether the experiment increased their chances on the labour market.

The evaluation indicates that the initial goals were met. There is no evidence that scholarship PhDs push employed PhDs out of the labour market. However, the researchers write, the UG was the only institute to participate on a large scale. Here, the researchers saw ‘that the number of employed PhDs decreased as the influx of scholarship PhDs increased’.

Scholarship PhDs do in fact have more freedom to write their own research proposals, according to the researchers. But this doesn’t change anything regarding their preparedness for the labour market.

Inadequate information

However, the minister doesn’t think that’s enough to continue the experiment. He points to the inadequate information, ambiguity about PhDs’ fiscal situation, and the fact that few supervisors were made aware that scholarship PhDs don’t have any teaching obligation.

While he acknowledges the improvements the UG has made, it does mean the experiment ‘has lost support’. ‘It’s my aspiration to create more peace, space, and continuity in the academic system and to give talented people more room.’

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