What is going on?
The Minister of Education is trying to gut the employment conditions of PhD candidates. Her plan is to change the law to make it possible for Universities to employ PhD students that are not employees. These PhD candidates will count as students, receiving a stipend instead of a salary. Therefore, they will be without legal protection based on the Collective Labor Agreement and will not receive any benefits.
Dutch universities are among the best research universities in the world. The Netherlands are also one of the few countries in the world where PhD candidates are employees of the university. These facts are not unrelated: The mutual respect that comes from a fair working relationship lies at the core of the success of the Dutch university system.
Research is one of the core tasks of the university, and a large share of Dutch academic research is performed by PhD candidates. Since PhD candidates share the responsibility for this core task, they should be viewed as employees, and remunerated as such.
Dutch PhD candidates are among the world’s most scientifically productive, and Dutch universities attract academic talent from all over the world. If the Dutch government wants to keep the Netherlands in its leading position in academia, it should not undermine the current system.
But it is only an experiment!
The VSNU, the association of Dutch universities, has been lobbying for this change for years. This is not an experiment. What are they trying to find out? There has been nothing to indicate how, when, or even if they are going to evaluate the outcomes of this ‘experiment’. In fact, nobody cares about the outcome. The most important argument from the universities’ perspective seems to be a reduction of the cost of a PhD candidate.
However, we predict three negative consequences. First of all: if PhD candidates become cheaper for universities, more PhD candidates will be appointed per supervisor. This will have a negative effect on the quality of supervision, and harm the output and future prospects of PhD candidates.
Second, the contrast between the employment conditions of PhD candidates and graduates working in other sectors will increase. Graduates with Master degrees working in industry are employees, not students. When PhD candidates miss out on benefits like parental leave, pension rights, and unemployment benefits, scientific talent will prefer a lucrative job elsewhere.
Finally, this system will create a feeling of inequality among PhD candidates working within the same university. They will perform the same tasks, but for different remuneration and scientific prestige. This will create higher expectations for PhD candidates with an employment contract, whereas PhD candidates receiving a stipend will be seen as second-class, regardless of their actual quality.
The well-being of the university is a concern for us all. It is our duty to make sure that when we leave the university, it is in as good a shape as when we arrived here. You probably chose this country because of its excellent research climate, and the continued value of your degree depends on it staying like that.
What can I do?
First, you should sign our petition. If you want to help more, pass the link to the petition along to others, speak to them about this problem, share it on facebook (you can also share what PhD-party PhDoc posts on her facebook-page about it), and get your friends and colleagues to sign the petition. If you want more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org