Many international PhD candidates on scholarships having trouble to get by

International PhD candidates on scholarships in the Netherlands are very concerned about their financial situations. On average they earn 1,400 euros per month, but for some this figure is just 700 euros. Last week, PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) sounded the alarm. Dean Paul Koenraad of the Graduate School says he shares those concerns.

photo Richard Villalon / iStock

Most of the estimated 3,800 international PhD candidates on scholarships in the Netherlands have an income that’s below the minimum wage, a survey by PNN shows. They earn way less than PhD candidates with an employment status, who receive between 2,500 and − in their fourth year − 3,200 euros.

Their income consists of a scholarship (from their home country), possibly complemented by an allowance from the Dutch university where they work. Without a side job or extra support from their family, they have a hard time making ends meet.

Without rights

They don’t only earn less than PhD candidates that are on the payroll, but they also have fewer rights. According to PNN chair Anneke Kastelein, this has all kinds of consequences. “They’re not eligible for student accommodation, and they also have a lot of trouble renting anywhere else as they’re not able to show a salary slip. Due to their unclear status, they don’t qualify for a Dutch healthcare insurance or benefits either.”

What’s more, over a third of the 250 PhD candidates that participated in the survey are afraid they won’t be able to complete their PhD project on time. For some this would mean they would have to pay back the entire scholarship in their home country. In the Netherlands, the average PhD takes more than five years to complete, but PhD candidates on scholarships are under huge pressure to do so within four years.

Mental problems

Two third of the respondents are experiencing high − or even extremely high − work pressure, and some of them have to deal with transgressive behaviour to boot. All of this affects their mental health, which a quarter of all respondents describes as bad to very bad.

At TU/e there are about eighty Chinese PhD candidates who have a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council (CSC). Last November, Cursor wrote that the CSC candidates active in the Netherlands, there were a total of 1,900 at the time, are struggling to make ends meet with the grant amount of about 1,350 euros per month. Paul Koenraad, dean of the Graduate School, says that in addition to that group of CSC candidates at TU/e, there are "a handful" of other scholarship candidates. Koenraad: "At TU/e we are also very concerned about this group and that is partly why it was decided before the summer holidays in the consultation of the deans with the rector to be very cautious with scholarship PhD candidates and to ensure an income that is not below the national subsistence level for new appointments. We also want to ensure a complete PhD experience for this group during the PhD period, for example by making it possible to participate in conferences."

Higher allowance

The working and living conditions of international PhD candidates on scholarships in the Netherlands are in need of urgent improvement, PNN believes. “Route the scholarship through the institution, which can then offer the PhD candidate an employment agreement, like they do for other types of funding," chair Anneke Kastelein says. Alternatively, give PhD candidates a higher allowance on top of their scholarships and make agreements about sick leave, pregnancy leave and contract renewal.

Marie-José van Tol, chair of academic society The Young Academy, supports PNN’s stance: “We trust the academic community to defend the interests of international PhD candidates on scholarships and create optimal working conditions for them.”

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