Partner Support bigger and better

One year ago, the UK wrote about the challenges facing Partner Support, a collection of services for the partners of new international university employees. A year on, positive changes – including actual jobs for partners – have come to the programme.

The goal of the Partner Support programme is to help partners of newcomers acclimate to the Netherlands and eventually find a suitable job.

But despite the dedication of the Human Resources employees who contributed to the programme in their free time, logistical and financial issues made it difficult in the past to meet the needs of these often accomplished men and women who leave their own careers behind to move to the Netherlands with their partner.

‘It’s important that we do this because the people that we want to attract here often have a partner with a serious career or plans, and it’s important that you do something for them’, says Rob Noorda, head of HR Experts at the RUG. ‘We were already doing that with varying degrees of success, and you always remember the failures more readily than the successes, but aside from that, we have also stated that we have to approach this more seriously.’

Positive changes

Last year, the shortcomings of the programme – difficulty accessing university job vacancies despite partners having internal candidate status, costly language courses (at the partner’s own expense), and a general lack of clarity about their services – left some partners feeling dissatisfied with the resources available to them.

Since then, the programme has changed for the better. This past spring, the board of directors approved of a two-year pilot for the restyled Partner Support, along with a budget of 315,000 euros. A dedicated Partner Support project leader – Harrianne ter Meer – has been appointed to join existing Human Resources personnel part time, and Dutch language courses are once again available, now at a 50 per cent discount to partners.

‘Why can’t we create a job for a certain number of people?’
Most remarkably, the programme has arranged for some partners to be given a temporary job working within the university. ‘It’s a fairly revolutionary idea: why can’t we create a job for a certain number of people? The board of directors and the board of deans said that they thought we should try this. What’s more, the deans were very much in favour of it’, Noorda says.

Basis, plus and special

The programme’s new structure relies on three packages of services: basis, plus and special. Partners of international research staff, PhD candidates, postdocs and domestic scientific staff are eligible for the basis and plus packages. The plus level is geared more toward the partners of tenure track hires.

All partners – of which there are 70 on average each year – will be registered on the RUG site, as well as WIRE (Welcome International Researchers & Employees). They are also invited to monthly meetings for networking, given direct access to internal vacancies and can have an orientation meeting with an international HR advisor.

A new platform for all relevant information for partners, including internal vacancies, is in the plans, but that still has to be developed. Human Resources and the general university budget will finance these services.

Top talent

The partners of so-called ‘scientific top talent’, i.e. potential candidates for endowed chairs, are generally covered by the ‘special‘ package. These partners – of whom HR estimates to have about six per year – are the ones who can potentially have a position created for them somewhere at the RUG.

That position will be initially financed by the faculty of the new employee, by the faculty of the partner and the central university budget. Whichever faculty the partner works in is expected to ensure that the position is eventually paid for through other means, though.

HR director Marion Stolp says, ‘It also has to be something that they will actually benefit from and something that they think they can pay for themselves through their own funding or perhaps subsidies.’

Support for a job outside the university is also a possibility. Partners of the top researchers are also granted access to a head hunter, a volunteer contract and/or ‘a temporary part time job appointment within the RUG’.


Harrianne ter Meer took on the position of project leader in mid-September after working as a human resources advisor in the highly international Faculty of Economics & Business for eight years. She emphasises that the packages are a rough framework rather than a hard and fast rule.

‘People have to feel welcome’
‘Every partner should be handled in such a way that they really feel they are helped’, she says. ‘People have to feel welcome, feel that they’re getting adequate support and really getting what they need.’

The new approach to the programme is sustained by the necessary funding to achieve the goal Partner Support has always had: thoroughly helping the talented men and women whose partners come to work at the university.