PhD Network Netherlands is surprised by the lack of action from minister Dijkgraaf in the letter on top-up grants for scholarship PhD candidates

AMSTERDAM, 21-12-2023 - This week, the long-awaited Parliamentary letter from outgoing Minister Dijkgraaf on top-up grants for (international) scholarship PhDs was sent to the House of Representatives, revealing that the minister will not take any measures around top-up grants at this time. Promovendi Netwerk Nederland is surprised at the lack of action from the minister, who is looking to the universities for a solution. Benthe van Wanrooij, chair of PhD Network Netherlands: "Scholarship PhD candidates currently have to live on amounts far below the minimum wage, and are very worried about their financial situation. The minister looks to the universities for a solution, but we see that until now many universities have not been willing to supplement the income of scholarship PhD students. That situation remains exactly the same now: these PhD candidates are in dire need of improvement"

Previous research by PNN shows that international scholarship PhDs earn an average of only 1400 euros per month, and are deeply concerned about their financial situation. In the Netherlands, there are an estimated 3800 international scholarship PhD students who receive a monthly scholarship, rather than a salary. Their average income is 1400 euros, but some scholarships are as low as 700 euros per month. These doctoral students work full-time well below the minimum wage (€1995 p.m.), and for a fraction of the salary of a salaried doctoral student (from €2770 p.m.). In addition, this group of doctoral students is not entitled to allowances or other social security benefits.

Some universities currently supplement this amount by means of "top-ups": a financial addition to the scholarship the PhD student is receiving at that time. There are many ambiguities surrounding the top-up system because there are no unambiguous tax agreements. Each university that opts for a top-up must make arrangements for this with the local tax inspector. Regional tax inspectors deal with this differently, so some universities cannot reach agreements. The motion by MPs Van der Molen and Van Dijk called for "national agreements to be made between the relevant ministries and executive departments [...] so that there is a tax methodology for how to deal with top-up grants." Van Wanrooij: "In the parliamentary letter , the minister simply does not implement the motion and does not take responsibility in recognizing scholarship PhD students as equivalent PhD students. There is also no helping hand to universities to arrange the top-ups decently and equally. We hope universities do look for a solution to the precarious situation in which these PhD students find themselves." 

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