Reservations about critical review PhD education experiment

Today, the Ministery of Education, Culture and Science published the critical review (in Dutch) of the interim evaluation of the PhD Education Experiment. We regret that this review seems far from critical to us. We have serious reservations about the conclusions and research questions of this study.

First of all, we find it very strange that the reviewers can give the interim evaluation a stamp of approval, while at the same time concluding that a. It cannot be ruled out that there is a financial motive for participation in the experiment (which is not permitted according to the Besluit Experiment Promotieonderwijs), b. the definition of displacement was such that the conclusion was fixed in advance, and therefore could not be properly investigated, and c. the interim evaluation has wrongly concluded that scholarship PHDs experience more freedom than employee PhDs. These are wrong conclusions of the interim evaluation that have coloured the entire interim evaluation, in favour of the University of Groningen and to the detriment of the scholarship PhDs.

Secondly, we deeply regret that the researchers did not pay any attention to the creation process of the research. It is precisely in that creation process that problems have arisen that may have influenced the results of the interim evaluation. PNN offered to explain its objections to the reviewers, and expressed the hope that the reviewers would also take into account the problems in the creation process of the interim evaluation, but that hope has proved in vain: the reviewers have focused purely on the text of the interim evaluation and the statements of the conductors of the interim evaluation.

The text of the interim evaluation does not mention the, in the eyes of PNN problematic, creation process. It is not described that the individuals interviewed by the researchers were selected by one of the experiment’s main stakeholders and proponents: the Dean of Graduate Schools. Nor is it described that this dean urged these interviewees to be positive about the experiment. These issues have been repeatedly addressed by PNN, including in the media, and were therefore well known. These problems actually prompted this investigation into the quality of the interim evaluation. It is therefore extremely strange that these problems were not part of this critical review.

PNN therefore wonders how this could possibly have happened. It seems hard to believe that, despite all the times that PNN has raised these issues and the media have written about these problems, these issues have been overlooked by the reviewers. It appears as if a conscious choice has been made not to include these problems in the investigation or in the research assignment.

Even if the interference from Groningen is not taken into account, it is strange that the reviewers come to their final conclusion. Actually, there is also scientific research that concludes the exact opposite about the same interim evaluation. Prof. Rob van Gestel, professor of Law at Tilburg University, concludes in his article (in Dutch) that the interim evaluation is not up to standard and insufficiently meets the objectives of the experiment, and that the researchers of the interim evaluation are not very critical of it. According to him, the researchers also often include normative positions in the interim evaluation, while these are not substantiated or are incorrect. How is it possible that he does notice these issues, but that the reviewers who carried out the research on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science overlook this?

What the ministry does not seem to realize, is that the scholarship PhDs are the victims. In their manifesto, they have clearly shown that there are major problems with the experiment: a loud and clear signal against the rosy picture that the interim evaluation paints. By not taking a good look at the quality of this interim evaluation, the ministry is abandoning the scholarship PhDs and condemning a new cohort of scholarship PhDs to the same problems.