Universities allowed to test with PhD-student system

For the next eight years, universities will be free to experiment with PhD tracks where PhD candidates will be compensated with a student grant rather than a salary. The government announced the news on Wednesday.

The new PhD programs are cheaper for universities because they’re not hiring PhD students, and neither do they have to pay for social premiums. Universities have been lobbying to get this form of PhD education off the ground for years, as it’s quite common in the rest of Europe.

In the Netherlands, PhD candidates work for their university. Every time universities tried to change the system, they backed out in front of a judge or got in trouble with the tax authorities.

But the universities kept trying, and politicians finally listened. At first, the government wanted to define a law that stated universities were free to consider their PhD candidates as either students or employees, but the Council of State strongly opposed, so now there will be an eight-year experiment for two thousand PhD candidates first.

By implementing the new rule, the government hopes universities will get a chance to train more PhD graduates, and offer more high-quality education. Moreover, the system should improve their chances of finding a job.

PhD candidates with a student status can demand education from their university, enjoy more freedom regarding their PhD subject, and are exempt from doing other tasks. The downside, however is that they have no pension fund, and are even required to pay tuition fees.

Universities are free to shape the experiment as they see fit. They can offer three or five-year tracks, but Minister Jet Bussemaker of Education expects PhD tracks to last four years on average. PhD students can enroll until 2018, and will receive a grant from the profiling fund. Should the experiment end prematurely, universities will be required to hire the PhD candidates for the remainder of their track.

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