Press release: Number of dubious PhD contracts at universities even higher than previously assumed

16.7% of employee PhD candidates at Dutch universities have a dubious contract: a contract short than (the equivalent of) four years fulltime. This is one of the findings of a report by the PhD candidates Network Nederland (PNN) on the contract characteristics of PhD candidates in the Netherlands. This report was written on the basis of the results of the PNN PhD Survey, which was completed by 1,601 PhD candidates in the Netherlands.

The proportion of dubious contracts is even higher than the numbers found in the past five years in the annual Employment Conditions Monitor, which analyses the proportion of dubious PhD contracts on the basis of vacancies offered. There, the proportion of dubious contracts fluctuated between 10 and 15%. With regard to the vacancies, it was suspected that they did not provide a complete picture for all PhD candidates. In fact, many PhD positions are filled without a public vacancy. As a result, it was suspected that the proportion of dubious contracts for PhD candidates in the Netherlands would be even higher. The PhD Survey seems to confirm these suspicions. PNN President Lucille Mattijssen said: “Although there seems to be a decrease in the proportion of dubious contracts between 2016 and 2017, the decrease slowed down since then. It is now time for universities to adhere to the standard set in the collective labour agreement for PhD tracks: a minimum of four years full-time, or at least equivalent”.

Although 72.6% of the PhD candidates in the survey have a four-year project, it is striking that PhD trajectories shorter than four years are relatively common in University Medical Centers (25.6%) and in ‘non-standard’ PhD trajectories of externally financed PhD candidates and employees pursuing a PhD. The appointment size could also differ: 40-hour working weeks were most common at universities, while 36-37-hour working weeks were most common at UMCs. Scholarship PhDs and external PhDs usually do not have a formal number of hours per week to work on their project.

There are also other things than employment conditions that are not always well arranged. For example, 7% of PhD candidates in the PhD Survey are not registered in a Graduate School, and a further 8.2% do not know whether they are registered in a Graduate School. External PhDs and PhDs working in non-standard constructions are the least frequently registered. When PhDs are not registered in a Graduate School, they often miss out on quality assurance mechanisms, such as a training and supervision plan. External PhDs are also relatively often not allowed to follow courses and can relatively often not receive funding to attend congresses.

The report is part of a series of reports based on the PNN PhD Survey. Previously, PNN published a report on the wellbeing of PhD candidates. Soon, reports will follow on, among other things, supervision, ‘non-standard’ PhD trajectories and teaching.