In response to questions from Member of Parliament Wiersma (VVD), Minister van Engelshoven (Education, Culture and Science) responded to the Monitor Arbeidsvoorwaarden (Employment Conditions Monitor) published by PNN on June 10th. The Monitor shows, among other things, that the proportion of dubious contracts for PhD candidates (a contract duration < 4 years and/or an appointment < 1.0 FTE) has not decreased. Large differences between universities also became visible.
In her provisional response, the Minister expressed her appreciation of PNN’s efforts to publish this annual Monitor, and stated that she strives for adequate and clear terms of employment for PhD candidates (as well as other academic staff). The Minister also sees that there is growing pressure on the scientific system, of which the PhD candidate may become a victim. She has asked VSNU, NWO and KNAW for a general response to the Monitor. A more detailed response will follow after the summer.
This year was the first time that, in addition to general developments, the Monitor showed a breakdown by university. As a result of the reports, a number of universities have already contacted PNN about which of their vacancies were marked as dubious, in order to be able to take action themselves. This revealed some explanations for some contracts classified as dubious, such as PDEng contracts and contracts financed by a three-year Marie Skłodowska-Curie scholarship.
There is certainly room for discussion about the meaning of these explanations for what is meant by ‘dubious’, but it is a good sign that the Monitor has been able to initiate this discussion and encourage universities to actively scrutinise the terms of employment they offer their PhD students. After all, the Monitor only provides insight into vacancies that have been published via AcademicTransfer. The suspicion is that this only reveals the tip of the iceberg of dubious contracts. PNN is happy to continue the dialogue about the employment conditions of PhD candidates, in order to bring the conversation beyond the numbers and percentages from the Monitor.