Universities give virtually no help to Chinese PhD scholarship students

More than 1,900 Chinese PhD scholarship students are having to survive on a grant below the minimum subsistence level. They are relatively cheap for universities, which generally do not supplement their income. AtTU/e, where eighty such PhD students are now active, their grants are not supplemented due to tax and labor law reasons.

photo Yana Tikhonova / iStock

Dutch universities are happy to welcome Chinese PhD scholarship students. Thanks to the grants the students receive from the China Scholarship Council (CSC), the universities do not have to pay a salary or social security contributions. Investigative journalism platform Follow the Moneyanalysed how many Chinese scholarship students are currently pursuing a PhD at a Dutch university and what their living conditions are. The Delft-based news website Delta also contributed to the investigation and posted an abridged version of the results last Monday. It said that Delft University of Technology has not admitted any CSC PhD scholarship students since 2018, partly because CSC was not willing to increase the grants.


The grants for PhD students are only 1,350 euros per month for a full-time project, way below the statutory minimum wage of 1,750 euros. PhD students in the employent of the university earn at least 2,541 euros per month for similar work. PhD scholarship students interviewed by Follow the Money say that they can get by only “by skimping on meals”, even for their children. They currently have no entitlement to child benefits.

According to Marleen van Heusden, program manager International Affairs, there are fiscal employment law issues that make it impossible for the TU/e to supplement the scholarship of CSC doctoral students. “It was discussed internally”, says Van Heusden, “but because of the reasons mentioned above, the intention to supplement these scholarships has never been developed any further. Via the Dutch China University Network, we did ask CSC to increase the scholarship amount.”

From the group of eighty CSC doctoral students that are now active at TU/e, some have indicated to struggle financially, says Van Heusden. “We’re looking into this now and the past few weeks some people in that group asked questions about possible support.” According to her, the TU/e already decided years ago to not extend the agreement with CSC. “So currently, we don’t have any agreement with CSC.”


According to Follow the Money, every Dutch university enrols Chinese CSC PhD scholarship students. Most of them are at the University of Groningen (340), Maastricht University (282) and Delft University of Technology, which still enrols 278. Universities receive a bonus of more than 80,000 euros for each PhD graduate. The platform says they deny making a profit on the Chinese PhD scholarship students, but are unwilling to provide a cost analysis.

Only the University of Groningen, Maastricht University and the University of Amsterdam give a partial allowance to the PhD students.

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