Supporting the party is just a formality, say Chinese PhD students

Chinese PhD students on a grant from the China Scholarship Council have to satisfy some dubious requirements. This has prompted queries from several Dutch university administrations. There are about eighty CSC doctoral students working at TU/e at the moment, says Marleen van Heusden, program manager at International Affairs.

photo Dimuthu Jayawickrama / Shutterstock

According to the conditions of the national funding body the China Scholarship Council (CSC), Chinese PhD students have to endorse the Communist Party line. If any doubt exists about a candidate’s political ideology, he or she can be questioned about it. Furthermore, it’s mandatory for PhD students to return to China when their doctoral work is completed.

Good value for money

Dutch universities have been eager to welcome these fully funded doctoral students. Thanks to external funding they bring, universities find CSC doctoral students good value for money. Moreover, for every successfully defended dissertation, institutions receive a bonus of about 80,000 euros from the Dutch government.

There is also a page on the TU/e website that draws Chinese students' attention to the possibility of starting a PhD with such a grant in Eindhoven. That page also lists the requirements that a candidate must meet in order to start, such as a good command of English and the candidate must have the agreement of a TU/e professor on the content and planning of the PhD project. Marleen van Heusden, program manager International Affairs, says that about eighty CSC doctoral students are currently working at TU/e.

Meagre grant

No one ever retired early on a CSC grant. On Wednesday, Folia reported that the grant is often too meagre to pay for living expenses and that the University of Amsterdam was topping up these grants. On the TU/e website it says the following about that: ‘Students who receive a scholarship are provided with a living allowance as prescribed by the Chinese Government for the term of the scholarship, return airfare to the Netherlands by the most economical route, student visa fees and the cost of health insurance for international students.’ Van Heusden says that everything that is mentioned there must be paid out of the CSC sholarship and that TU/e doesn’t top up these grants.


The number of PhD students from China has grown from 100 when the CSC grant was introduced in 2007 to 800 Chinese PhD students in the Netherlands in 2019. The TU/e website also refers to a so-called 'PhD Workshop China 2022'. This has taken place annually since 2009, but this year it is organized online again due to the corona pandemic. In the period from 15 to 24 November, foreign universities and knowledge institutions can present their PhD programmes there and they can also interview potential candidates. The site also states that CSC is 'prepared' to increase the funding of the program to 9500 PhD candidates in 2022, of which 5500 for a 'Joint PhD Program' and 4000 for a 'Full PhD Program'.

According to Van Heusden, TU/e departments have also participated in this workshop in the past. She does not know whether departments will also participate this year.


In May, staff at Erasmus University, where 152 CSC doctoral students are currently employed, criticised the conditions under which the grant is awarded. In an anonymous letter to the board, they expressed the criticism that the grants “are paid for by a regime that does not share the values and objectives of the university”, is “undemocratic”, and that the Communist Party “oppresses individuals and groups in society on the basis of their religion, ethnicity and political convictions”.

Last week, CSC doctoral candidates explained to Erasmus Magazine that the controversial rules can be found in every standard contract in China and are only of symbolic significance. Endorsing the rules is in that sense just a formality, but no one ever asks you about it, they said. The board of Rotterdam’s university has announced that it will publish a new checklist for assessing grants in October.

Increased risk

Erasmus University is probably not the only institution that will be evaluating funding programmes more rigorously. In January, the Ministry of Education, along with the association of universities in the Netherlands UNL and other research institutions, published national guidelines for knowledge security. These contain binding agreements governing universities, universities of applied sciences and research institutions regarding funding programmes, among other things. For instance, every institution is required to map the associated risks so that “adjustments can be made when funding is only obtained from one funding body”.

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