New doctoral conferment right intact through Upper House

Soon not only professors but also some associate professors will be able to award a doctorate degree. This drew countless critical questions from the Upper House directed at Education Minister Jet Bussemaker. But the members did approve the proposal.

First came a volley of written questions about the ius promovendi (the right to confer the doctoral degree) that Minister Bussemaker had to address. Then on Tuesday she faced a series of oral questions, posed mainly by VVD senator Jan Anthonie Bruijn.

Nonetheless the Upper House did approve the legislative proposal; an intention that became apparent early on in the debate. To wrap the whole thing up, the minister needed only to offer a couple of reassurances and provide some commitments.

Her legislative proposal is intended to foster the internationalization of Dutch higher education. The belief behind the extension of the entitlement to confer doctoral degrees (just one of the many topics in the bill) is that not being the supervisor of PhD candidates whom they personally supervise is a source of annoyance to good researchers; the doctoral degree must always be officially awarded by a professor. The limited conferment right is believed to make the Netherlands unappealing to foreign researchers.

But VVD senator Jan Anthonie Bruijn foresaw some complications. The caliber of Dutch science is currently high; why tamper with things? In the debate he remained persistently concerned about the professor's statutory responsibility for his or her specialist field: what happens to that responsibility if the professor can be passed over by the appointment of a associate professor as supervisor?

In any event, professors may make recommendations before that happens, said the universities' association VSNU last week to dispel fears. In addition, the responsibility for appointing supervisors will lie, as it does now, with the Doctoral Degree Boards, on which only professors sit.

D66 senator Alexander Rinnooy Kan, Professor of Economics at the University of Amsterdam, was dismissive of the problem. Appoint a supervisor contrary to the advice of a professor? That is never going to happen, he said, and even if it did, there would have to be something really odd going on.

Minister Bussemaker committed to evaluating the new conferment right in five years' time.

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