We’re only starting the third year of a nationwide ‘experiment’ allowing universities to attract PhD scholarship students. But in her reaction to a list of written concerns raised by political party Groenlinks, the Education Minister has said there will be no further expansion.
One concern is that PhD scholarship students do the same work as employees, but with fewer benefits and lower pay. People at the RUG have expressed similar worries.
‘They classify you as a student when it’s financially convenient’, says one PhD candidate from the Faculty of Spatial Sciences who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘Otherwise, they expect you to behave like a professional researcher. Because even without the title, what you’re doing is the same.’
But defenders of the scholarship program have pointed out that the expectations and conditions for students and employees are not the same. Employees are expected to teach, for example.
‘A lot of it is politics’
The experiment was meant to attract more PhD candidates to the Netherlands and pump more highly educated people into the Dutch economy – all at a considerably lower cost to universities. The universities of Rotterdam and Groningen were approved for 15 and 850 scholarship students, respectively.
Lou de Leij says that so far, the experiment has been a success. But the minister’s decision ‘to block it does not come as a surprise. To be honest with you, a lot of it is politics. That’s a pity. I think it’s too bad that other universities won’t get a chance to try this. If the outcomes of the final analysis are positive, the experiment should continue. But that’s just my opinion as a scientist.’
De Leij doesn’t think this decision will have any negative impact on current PhD students at the RUG. He says they will be uniquely qualified on the job market, whatever happens. ‘They are all trained to become scientists like any other PhD. But on top of that, the program offers them so much that is a big plus in addition to their curriculum.’
But Reinder Broekstra, UMCG PhD candidate and PNN board member, is pleased with the Minister’s response. PNN has always been critical of the experiment and especially of allowing further rounds of expansion.
‘Officially and as a researcher, I’m happy the quality of the experiment will not be decreased by adding more students. Expansion would make it much more difficult to analyse, because they will all have different conditions.’
There has been growing concern about how the experiment would progress and be subjected to accurate evaluation, he says. ‘But now we can have more confidence about the status of PhD students and can better judge the results.’
Broekstra and the PNN believe all PhD students should be employees. But until that happens, the board will focus on ‘improving conditions as much as possible and making sure no inequalities exist.’
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