Know Your Rights as a PhD candidate: Information for employee-PhDs

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The information provided in this version only applies to PhDs directly employed by Dutch universities, whose first job classification is ‘doctoral candidate’. Unfortunately, for now this also excludes PhDs working at medical centres and research institutions. In due course, PNN aims to broaden the scope of this website and offer tailored information for each of the different types of PhDs.

PNN believes that the existence of different types creates an unacceptable form of legal inequality. After all, the result can be that two doctoral candidates doing the same activities in the same department have different labour conditions. However, as long as differences are not based on discriminatory grounds (e.g. race, age, sex), no legal basis exists yet for two people doing the same job to claim the same rights.1

For this website, we wanted to take as a starting point the situation where most labour rights are unequivocally regulated and clearly documented. We will use this as a basis to differentiate between the various types of doctoral students in the Netherlands in the near future. This will also enable us to highlight the differences in rights.

Click here to return to the first page of the Know Your Rights-environment.

Table of contents

The building blocks of labour rights

Generally we can distinguish between four levels of labour rights: (1) National law, (2) Collective agreements, (3) Local agreements and regulations, and (4) Personal contract.


  1. National law. This applies to all employees (and in some cases students) in the Netherlands. Examples of relevant national laws include the Minimum Wage Act (Wet minimumloon), the Working Hours Act (Arbeidstijdenwet), the Working Conditions Act (Arbeidsomstandighedenwet), the Work and Care Act (Wet Arbeid en zorg) and the Civil Code (Burgerlijk Wetboek).
  2. Collective labour agreements. This is an agreement the labour unions have made with the employer, and concerns all university personnel. This includes agreements on wages, working hours, bonuses, holidays and pensions.
  3. Local agreements and regulations. This concerns regulation regarding practical matters which can be different for universities, for example regarding commuting allowances. Sometimes the collective agreement explicitly states that local regulation should specify general legislation. Local regulation also includes promotion regulations (promotiereglement). Typically, PhD regulations mostly address the course of events with regard to the (preparation of the) degree ceremony. Another example that is arranged locally is the right to be a promotor (ius promovendi).
  4. Personal contract. This may contain agreements based on your personal situation. Examples are the formal appointment of your promotor and agreements on the ownership of the data you collect during your trajectory. This may also contain agreements related to the type of funding you receive for your trajectory.

For now, you can remember that out of these four layers, the collective labour agreement is most important. When you do not fall under the collective agreement, generally you only have the minimum protection of national law. Moreover, at present you cannot become a member of a labour union when you do not fall under the collective agreement for universities and unions cannot offer you legal assistance. The collective agreement is more important than your personal contract: what the agreement says always takes precedence over what the contract says.

The importance of joining a labour union

It is often wrongly assumed that labour conditions are determined unilaterally by your employer. This is a misconception. Without the contribution of labour unions in the Netherlands, working conditions would look very different. Among other things, over the years labour unions ensured that child labour no longer exists, that the number of working hours is capped, that you are paid in the event of pregnancy and illness, and that holiday allowances are available.

Moreover, as a union member you are not on your own in the event of a conflict with your employer. In that case, it is essential to make sure that you understand the full implications of your contract. Legal unions have specialized legal staff who can go line by line through agreements and discuss all the potential problems that might affect you as an individual, depending on your circumstances.

For PhD candidates, the most relevant labour unions are AOb,  FNV, and CNV.

Three levels of legality

Next to this, it is important to be aware of the different statuses of these rights. The three levels below aim to provide you with some guidance about the status of the different labour rights.

  1. Legally binding. Rights that are considered compulsory: these laws do not allow for a different interpretation by your employer. Examples include maternity leave and parental leave.
    • In some cases, the collective labour agreement allows for some leeway in interpretation. For example, there is a significant difference between that something it should be granted to you, or may be granted. PNN is aware of the problems with this formulation, which we will bring in to the negotiation table. This is especially true for (1) Illness, (2) representation duties, and (3) internships, and (4) informal care.
  2. Agreements and commitments. Rights about which consensus exists (for example because they are mentioned in the cao-NU), but are formulated in a non-binding manner. Examples of ‘soft regulation’ like this are the agreements on opportunities for professional development.
  3. Generally acceptable. Domains about which no consensus has been reached and that are not yet laid down in legislation (not even as an intention or as a general agreement). For these areas, information is included on what is generally considered acceptable based on existing information and experiences. This mostly applies to supervision and teaching.

If you have doubts about the legal status of specific rights, do not hesitate to contact us on

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Start and scope of contract

For more facts and figures, be sure to read the PNN PhD Survey 2020 on Contract Characteristics.

The contract for employee-PhDs is a temporary employment contract for the expected duration of the promotion process. At the moment you start, your employment contract is set to a fixed term.

In principle, the duration of your employment is four years, based on a full working week (38 hours). The national Higher Education Act states that the so-called chain provision (ketenbepaling) does not apply for employees in a position for education purposes. PhD candidates are considered as such a position. This means that there are no restrictions to the number of successive employment contracts. The law thus always offers space for a contract extension.

4 years, 3 years, ‘2+3’ years?

As of July 2018, the collective labour agreement states that the duration of employee-PhD contracts is four years. Accordingly, the majority of employee-PhD positions in the Netherlands have a four year duration.

However, in some cases the PhD trajectory is treated as a ‘consolidated’ version of the research master’s program (2 years) and the actual PhD trajectory (3 years). Because the university appoints the candidate as an employee-PhD for three years instead of four years, this ‘2+3’-model is said to save time and money, without compromising quality and depth. In the Netherlands, there is already a number of scientific fields where the PhD trajectory has this consolidated form, such as communication science and economic sciences.

Although the formulation of the labour agreement provides this leeway, it has to be underlined that PNN strongly opposes the ‘2+3’-model, as outlined among others in our Employment Conditions Monitor. There is no clear evidence for the benefits of shortening the PhD trajectory, other than a cost reduction for universities.

Probationary period and go/no-go decision

On commencement of the promotion process, the law provides space for an employment contract with a term of 18 months (1,5 years) at most, which then functions as a probationary period. Regulation regarding the go/no-go decision for your thesis is mostly handled locally. Mostly, the progress in the first year will be discussed with your supervisor(s) within 8 to 14 months after the start of your contract.

Factors influencing a go/no-go-decision can include (as far as these were not yet hard requirements for your initial application):

  • A positive master’s diploma evaluation or a positive result of a qualifying examination,
  • Proof of proficiency in English,
  • Approval of your project proposal,
  • Approval of your Training and Supervision Plan,
  • Evaluations of your first-year ‘pilot study’,
  • A positive formal go/no-go decision by your promotor(es).

If doubts exist about the progress that is made, your supervisors might express this to you, in an attempt to show more progress until the 18 months have passed. As soon as you have received a go for the rest of your PhD, the HRM department is not equipped to raise any more questions, for example about financial backing.

Full-time or part-time

When you work part-time, or when your contract is changed to part-time during your PhD, law requires that the employment contract should be extended proportionally.

A request to work part-time can only be refused if it has serious harmful consequences for your employer, for example if your project is externally funded and the funding has to be paid back if the project is not finished timely. However, some external funders (e.g. some NWO-funds) have options for freezing the fund in the case of parental leave.

(Digital) access to university facilities

Almost all regulations regarding the access to your workplace are arranged locally by your university. As a general guideline, PhD candidates should receive an identification code (ID) connected to their university, which provides access to databases and electronic journals for which the university library has a subscription.

Typically, your ID gives access to email facilities, both with an email client and with webmail, and a login for the computers at your workplace. In general, your department is responsible for providing office space to its employees.

An employee-ID almost always comes with an access card linked to your credentials. This card can give access to the office space of your own faculty or department, bicycle sheds, copying facilities, and coffee machines. An access card should be issued after approval by the manager of your department and will be requested to the access management unit of your university by your secretariat.

Flexible working hours

Unless ‘business interests’ do not allow for it, you are entitled to a so-called ‘flexible working hours’ arrangement. This means that you can come to an arrangement with your manager about weekly working hours that deviate from the customary 38 hours per week. You may work two hours extra or less each week. With this, you either relinquish 96 holiday hours on an annual basis if you work less, or you receive extra holiday hours if you work more.

The arrangement about how to apply the flexible working hours scheme has a duration of one year. If unforeseen circumstances make it imperative to change the arrangement, you should consult on this with your employer.

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Salary & payment

Employee PhD candidates are subject to the P-scale (short for promovendi), which includes four salary grades. Prior grades or starting grades (aanloopschalen) before P0 do not exist. The following monthly (gross) salary levels apply until 31 December 2021:

Grade Salary
0 2.395
1 2.790
2 2.920
3 3.061

On inception of the employment contract, you are placed in grade P0 for a period of 12 months. At the end of this period, you will be placed in salary grade P1. This will also happen if your first employment contract runs longer than twelve months.

If your personal contract does not state if salary increases are related to an annual assessment, it will take place automatically. However, if it is part of your personal contract and you did not have an annual assessment fifteen months after the last periodic salary increase, and you cannot be charged for this, the next increase takes effect automatically while upholding the original incremental date.

End-of-year bonus

You are entitled to a structural end-of-year bonus expressed as 8.3% of the salary received during the calendar year. The minimum amount of the end-of-year bonus is € 2,250 gross. When you work part-time, or only a part of the year, the minimum is adjusted pro rata.

Holiday allowance

You are entitled to a holiday allowance amounting to 8% of your total remuneration. The allowance is paid once every twelve months, generally in the month of May. Sometimes, local regulation may stipulate that you have the option to receive the holiday allowance monthly. In case of dismissal, payment is made over the period between the end of the last period for which holiday allowance was paid out and the date of your dismissal.

Individual choices model

Your university should properly inform you of the possible choices regarding the exchange of employment terms, and the individual consequences of your choices in a tax-related sense, for social security or for pension rights. At most universities you can make your choices in the so-called ‘individual choices model’. If this model is applied, your number of leave hours should not be less than four times your weekly working hours.

The following sources can be chosen in time and money:[1]

  • Holiday hours, with a maximum of 76 holiday hours per financial year
  • Salary, holiday allowance, end-of-year bonuses and fixed allowances.

Your choice can relate only to one financial year, unless the model explicitly gives options for several financial years.

You may at least choose from the following targets in time and money:

  • Extra holiday hours
  • Additional income, with a maximum amount equal to 38 holiday hours per financial year
  • Additional pension build
  • Flexible working hours

Read more:

  • cao-NU:
    • Article 3.4: End-of-year bonus
    • Article 3.9: Doctoral candidate salary
    • Article 3.11: Holiday allowance
    • Chapter 5: Individual choices model
    • Appendix A Financial terms of employment 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2020: Section 2 Year-End Bonus
    • Appendix A: Section 4 Salary Tables


For more facts and figures, be sure to read the PNN PhD Survey 2020 on Supervision and freedom.

The relationship with your supervisors can make or break the success of your PhD. Not much mandatory regulation exists regarding day-to-day supervision. A good recent guide on a healthy relationship and generally accepted rights and regulations is the Golden Rules for Supervisors and PhD Candidates from Universiteit Leiden (link below).

Training and guidance plan

The training and guidance plan should be one of the cornerstones of your PhD trajectory. This is a customised plan that should be set up for you by the appointed mentor or supervisor. Following consultation with you and in accordance with the plan, your employer should see to it that the plan is forwarded to you within three months of inception of your contract.

In any case the training and guidance plan should establish:

  • What knowledge and skills must be acquired and how this should be done;
  • Who shall act as your mentor, i.e. under whose supervision you shall work and who shall be the promotor. If the mentor is not the promotor, it is also stipulated that you shall discuss the doctoral research with the promotor at the beginning of the research project and at moments which are decisive for the progress of the research, at least once a year;
  • The extent, in minimum hours per month, of personal guidance from the appointed mentor to which you are entitled.

Towards the end of your first year, the training and guidance plan is supposed to be worked out in further detail for the remaining term of the employment contract. If there are fundamental changes to the plan, it may be adjusted annually thereafter. Local PhD regulation may stipulate detailed rights and obligations for you, your supervisor, and your employer. At Leiden University, for example, first-time supervisors are required to follow the Supervising PhD Candidates course.

The right to supervise

At the start of your trajectory, you get assigned supervisors who possess the right to supervise doctoral candidates (ius promovendi). This right used to be reserved for full professors. However, recent legislation prescribes that in addition, other members of staff with a Doctor or Doctor of Philosophy degree who the Board of Deans considers sufficiently competent may also be appointed as a supervisor. It varies per university how this new rule is implemented. Some universities have applied the rule for individual cases, but at Maastricht University, all associate professors possess the right to supervise. In the case of serious misconduct, professors can be deprived from the ius promovendi by the Executive Board. This rarely happens.

Read more:


Like any other university employee, you are entitled to maternity leave, parental leave, and sick leave.

Maternity leave

The total term of the maternity leave you are entitled to is at least 16 weeks. At your request, your employment contract is extended with the amount of maternity leave taken.

A distinction is made between pre- and post-natal maternity leave. Prenatal maternity leave starts between 6 and 4 weeks before the day after your due date (the so-called flexibility period).

After the birth, you are entitled to postnatal maternity leave and childbirth benefit. Be aware that under the Dutch Work and Care Act (Wet arbeid en zorg), you are obliged to cooperate in the application for benefits at the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV). The benefit is then deducted from the amount you are entitled to.

You are obliged to take at least six consecutive weeks of maternity leave after childbirth. The rest of your maternity leave can be taken flexibly over a period of 30 weeks, in consultation with your employer. For example, you can start working again one or more days a week. Or you can start working full-time again for a number of weeks and then take the rest of the leave flexibly.

No later than three weeks after the start of your maternity leave, you have to discuss with your employer how you are going to take the rest of the leave. Your request may only be rejected if your employer has a ‘compelling business interest’. The criteria for this interest are not easily met. Your response must be answered within two weeks after you have submitted your request.

Birth leave for partners

What if you are the partner of the mother? Birth leave for partners is set at once the total number of working hours per week. If you have a contract for 36 hours, this means you are entitled to 36 hours partner leave when your partner has given birth.

As of 1 July 2020, partners can take up to 5 weeks of additional birth leave. They will then receive a benefit amounting to 70% of their daily wage. The employee must take these weeks of leave within 6 months of the birth of the child, on the condition that the employee first takes the birth leave of one time the number of working hours per week.

A point of interest with respect to partner leave is proportional contract extension is not yet guaranteed. This is ­currently under negotiation and will hopefully be dealt with in future collective labour agreements.

Parental leave

As a parent, you are entitled to parental leave on partial pay. This partial pay amounts to 62.5% of your total remuneration over the hours of leave. If you have more than one child, you are entitled to parental leave on partial pay for each child.

The maximum parental leave hours to which you are entitled is 13 times your weekly working hours. Parental leave can be withdrawn with a maximum of one workweek for a consecutive period of six months. For example, if you work 32 hours a week, you are entitled to 13 times 32 hours of parental leave.

The parental leave should be limited to a maximum of 50% of your weekly working hours. Next to this, you cannot appeal to parental leave anymore if your child’s eighth birthday has passed.

How does appealing for parental leave look in practice? At least two months prior to the starting date of the leave you should inform your employer with a written statement of your intention to take leave. This statement should include:

  1. The period of the leave,
  2. The number of weekly leave hours, and
  3. The distribution of leave hours over the week.

The start and end dates of the leave can be made contingent on the date of birth, the date of maternity leave or the start of the care.

Your employer can change the distribution of leave hours throughout the week on the grounds of a ‘compelling business interest’ up to four weeks prior to the starting date of the leave, and after discussing the matter with you.

Over the hours of the parental leave, Holiday hours are not accumulated. Next to this, any commuting allowance shall be adjusted proportional to the actual working days.

Child care

There are generally three childcare options for children aged between 0-4 years:

●       a day care centre (kinderdagverblijf, usually a group of 10 to 30 children)

●       a child minder (gastouder)

●       One of the above combined with part-time work.

Dutch employees have the luxury to rely on grandparents to fill in the remaining hours, which is unfortunately not an option for international staff.

Parents in the Netherlands can apply for child care allowances to cover expenses. Visit the link to the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration (Belastingdienst) provided below for more information.[2]

It is not unusual to work temporarily for four days per week, the fifth being colloquially referred to as ‘mama day’ or ‘papa day’. Once children are in school, parents have the option of paying for ‘after-school care’ (buitenschoolse opvang, BSO), often organised on the school premises and consisting of supervised play.

Sick leave

In the unfortunate event you turn ill, the first 39 weeks of your illness you receive 100% of salary. Then the salary is adjusted to 76%. After a full two years of sick leave, in principle your contract is dissolved.[3]

At your request, your employer may decide to extend your employment contract in the case of illness, if there is a continuous period of illness of at least 8 weeks. Contrary to other forms of leave, such as maternity and parental leave, unfortunately your employer is not obliged to extend the contract in the event of illness.

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Teaching encompasses all tasks related to the provision of education. There are no hard definitions of what we mean by teaching duties. They can include (but are not limited to):[4]

  1. Developing and preparing a course. e.g. determining and describing learning objectives, determining foreknowledge of students, structuring the learning material, making sheets
  2. Execution. e.g. giving lectures.
  3. Assessment and examination. e.g. making and checking (homework) assignments, making and checking exams.

Teaching forms a vital part of experience in academia. If you want to pursue a career in academia, you should be given the opportunity to gain experience in teaching. The collective labour agreement contains an intention that all novice teachers should receive supervision and are given the opportunity to develop teaching skills, for example by taking part in the University Teaching Qualification (UTQ) track.

There are no strict overarching rules on how much a PhD candidate can be asked to teach, but your contract can make explicit what part of your position is allocated to teaching. Within a four-year contract, a teaching load of between 10% and 20% of your working hours is considered the most common. This range also shows from the PNN Employment Conditions Monitor.[5] If your contract contains teaching obligations exceeding 20% of your contract, this is difficult to call into question due to the current lack of a legal basis. However, if your teaching load exceeds 50% of your total fte, you no longer qualify as a PhD candidate and should be appointed as a lecturer.

Junior lecturers pursuing a PhD

Your employer can offer a combined junior lecturer and researcher or PhD candidate position within a temporary employment contract of six years, again in principle. During this period, you are expected to obtain the Universal Teaching Qualification (UTQ) and successfully complete your thesis.

Moreover, agreements have been made that if a full-time position should become available, junior lecturers should be offered a permanent position as an assistant professor. The (longer) fixed-term employment contract should allow the faculty to better absorb any fluctuations in education and teaching for a longer period in terms of quality. In addition, a longer employment contract can be used as a period to scout for talent to take up a career in research and academia. For you, this period increases your chances of an academic or research career, possibly even outside your own university.

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Career prospects and development

There exists consensus that within your employment, you should be given the time to obtain the required qualifications for a continued academic career, or for career counselling and obtaining qualifications leading to broader labour market prospects. In addition, you should receive training in writing research applications. The labour agreement stipulates that universities should work actively to provide from job-to-job guidance for PhD candidates.

Professional development

Your employment contract may be extended with the term of performing a management position which is acknowledged by the Executive Board of your university. Your extension is guaranteed if you join an employee participation body within the university. This is also true if you deploy managerial activities at one of the organisations involved in the labour agreement negotiations, including the labour unions, or ‘one of its affiliated associations’. It is advisable to always ask your HRM department if the extension would be valid for the organisation you are interested in.

Next to this, you may be afforded the opportunity to ‘take part in a work placement’ (e.g. in the form of an internship) during your employment. The internship should last no longer than six months. Your PhD employment contract can be temporarily put on hold during your internship, and resumed again afterwards.

In addition, you may opt for a part-time work placement, provided that the total workload does not exceed six times your working hours per month. In the case of a part-time work placement, your employment contract will temporarily be modified proportionately in terms of working hours. After the end of the full-time or part-time work placement, the employment contract will be resumed, and extended proportionately to the duration and work pressure of your workplace.

Read more:

Conflict and assistance

A gem cannot be polished without friction, and a constructive discussion can be of vital importance in order to make progression in your PhD trajectory. But in some cases, you may find yourself in conflict with an actor in your university that transcends a wholesome contradiction.

A starting point is to see if the situation can be solved with the people directly involved. If you feel you are being treated unjustly, whether it is your supervisor, your supervising team, or the HR department, it helps to make your concerns known directly to them. Of course, you should refrain from this if the nature of the problem is such that you feel it could endanger your position, be it professional or personal. However, a failed attempt at a joint solution is also often considered a prerequisite for eligibility for further steps.

Below, we provide a range of internal and external actors you can seek out for contact. Internal dispute resolution is generally the most effective, as it is easier to approach all parties involved directly. The external parties listed here mostly have an advisory function, but they can provide useful guidance and strategies for how to act in your specific conflict situation.


Arbitration committee

If you want to make use of your rights as laid down in the Collective Labour Agreement, but you think your employer refuses to grant them, you can opt for dispute settlement. A dispute can be submitted to the Disputes Committee, which must be set up at every university. Disputes can relate to non-compliance with the leave agreements.

The employer can establish further administrative rules in a local procedure regarding the internal handling of a submitted dispute. Condition for the committee to handle the request is that ‘demonstrable consultation’ has taken place between employee and immediate superior on the subject of the dispute.

Faculty/graduate school confidential advisor (vertrouwenspersoon)

Under the Working Conditions Act (Arbeidsomstandighedenwet) Dutch universities are obliged to protect their employees from psychological stress. For that reason, almost every faculty or graduate school has an appointed counsellor or confidant (vertrouwenspersoon). S/he can refer you to the appropriate actor inside or outside university. A counsellor can also mediate, of course with your consent, in order to find a solution. A confidential advisor has direct access to all departments and information within the university. Confidential Advisors are bound by official secrecy.


In some cases there might be a need for a party who is able to act more independently from the faculty and who has a mandate to conduct inquiries. For that reason, some universities have appointed an independent Ombudsperson. This person can support you by, for example, conducting a more detailed discussion, offering advice, or referring you to another party, through mediation or the establishment of an independent investigation.

Works council

You can also get in touch with someone from the Works Council (Ondernemingsraad, OR), the employee representative committee of your university. The powers of the Works Council, such as the right of advice, the right of consent and the right of initiative, are regulated in the national Works Councils Act (Wet op de ondernemingsraden, WOR). Most Works Councils meet at least once a month with the Executive Board of your university.


Local PhD Council

At Dutch universities, PhD candidates often are represented by local PhD councils. There can be several councils at your university, both at university-wide and faculty levels, and with varying degrees of activity. PhD councils typically maintain contact with the university’s Executive Board, deans and individual PhD candidates. Problems and issues that arise for doctoral candidates that are interlinked with local regulation can be discussed there and brought to the attention of relevant bodies. Visit the page listed below to find out more about your local PhD council(s).

 Promovendi Netwerk Nederland

Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN) is the national interest group for and by PhD candidates affiliated to Dutch universities, academic medical centers, and research institutions. Every PhD candidate in the Netherlands is free to send her or his legal and rights-related questions. At PNN, one board member is in charge of all matters concerning labour conditions (arbeidsvoorwaarden) and will try to provide an appropriate answer for your situation. Moreover, PNN has a signalling function when it comes to conflict situations: when we observe structural deficiencies in the disadvantage of PhD candidates, we will take action and pass this on to the relevant stakeholders, such as the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Labour union

If you are a member of a labour union you can also ask for guidance from a union representative. All labour unions in the Netherlands employ specialised lawyers who provide expert advice to their members. You are allowed to turn to a union lawyer if you have been a union member for six months or longer, for situations that arise from then onwards (this is called the ‘burning house policy’). Labour unions provide advice on matters such as collective bargaining, pensions, social security rights, or in the event of a dispute over reorganisations.

 Other forms of (free) legal advice

Het Juridisch Loket provides assistance with legal questions. For consultation by telephone you pay an amount per minute, but face-to-face consultation at one of their locations is free of charge. Well-trained lawyers confidentially provide advice and information. If you have more complicated questions which require the assistance of a lawyer, Het Juridisch Loket can refer you to a specialized lawyer.

The Rechtswinkel is a voluntary organisation where advanced law students give free legal advice every day during telephone consultation hours and walk-in consultations. Students working at the Rechtswinkel have a minimum number of courses at the university, guaranteeing decent basic legal knowledge. There are several Rechtswinkels throughout the Netherlands, among others in Amsterdam and Utrecht.


If you are convinced that you have been wronged greatly, you can even consider to get in touch with the Dutch press. No organization likes to get negative publicity, and it could form an external means of pressure for your university to take direct action. Here, too, there are gradations: you can choose to contact national press, but if you think the problem is local in nature, you can also consider submitting it to your university’s newspaper. Most universities still have an independent medium that critically scrutinises power. Finally, most journalists will respect your privacy, but be aware of the dangers of traceability when you go to the media.

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End of contract

It is the rule rather than the exception that finishing your dissertation takes longer than the duration of your contract. Employee-PhD’s with a full appointment mostly have four-year employment contracts with the university. However, many PhD students need more time: most research points to an average duration of five years. The fact that this is common practice could be an incentive for your employer to offer you a contract extension.

Who is involved in your application for contract renewal?

It is not just your supervisor who decides on the extension of your contract. Such an application involves many different parties. This is a general description of the work process:

1.     First, the application for renewal will be dealt with by your immediate superior. It helps if you already discussed and prepared your application for renewal with the significant actors from your department, such as your direct supervisors and university project managers. They may be consulted in the process of assessing your application.

2.     After this, your application will be provided with advice by the P&O-advisor at faculty level.

3.     Subsequently, the application is provided with financial advice by the controller or financial employee of the faculty.

4.     Finally, the application, together with all of the advice, is assessed by the faculty’s Operations Director (directeur bedrijfsvoering).


If your contract expires and is not renewed, your formal employment with the university ends. If this happens and your thesis is not yet finished, this could put you into a difficult position. But once your contract has expired, you can unfortunately no longer claim a great deal of the rights you had as an employee.

Unemployment benefits

In the event you become unemployed, you may claim benefit in accordance with the Unemployment Act (Van Werk naar Werk, WW). You should apply for benefits at the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV).[6] Expiry of a temporary contract is also considered a form of dismissal. You should fulfill the following requirements:

  • You lose five hours or more of your work per week and you are no longer entitled to receive a salary for those hours. Even if you lose part of your job, you can apply for unemployment benefits. Overtime or temporary extra hours worked also count. Be aware: If you immediately get a new job for the same number of hours or more after you become unemployed, you will not be able to receive WW benefits to supplement your income – even if you receive less pay.
  • You are immediately available for paid work. This entails that you should not make arrangements for unpaid activities if this does not allow you to start a new job immediately.
  • You have worked at least 26 weeks in the last 36 weeks before you became unemployed. If you were ill, on maternity leave, or if took unpaid leave, a period before this is chosen in which you worked for at least 26 weeks.
  • You did not get unemployed through your own fault.

The value of your benefit can be calculated as follows:

  1. From the salary you earnt in the year before you became unemployed, a ‘daily wage’ (dagloon) is calculated.
  2. This amount multiplied by 21.75 is your monthly unemployment benefit.
  3. The first two months of your unemployment, you receive 75 percent of this monthly benefit. After this, the amount is reduced to 70 percent.

Courtesy privileges

It appears to be fairly common practice that PhD candidates whose contracts expire are offered temporary courtesy privileges (gastvrijheidsverlening) by the university, to finish their dissertation. This involves granting permission to individuals who have no other formal relationship with the university to carry out certain activities at the university, without requiring any compensation from the university, except for an expense allowance.

Conditions for most courtesy privileges outline that the activities must not be part of the core activities of faculty employees. As you might have been previously employed as a PhD candidate, your activities obviously fall under the core activities of the faculty employees. In fact, you may assert that there is fictitious employment and you could demand an appropriate salary through litigation. Jurisprudence concentrates on the factual circumstances and not on whether the parties have made other arrangements.

In addition, if you receive unemployment benefits, you run the risk that these benefits may be withdrawn. You will have to receive permission from the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) to carry out tasks at the university. The activities may not be a barrier to finding and accepting a new job.

Dismissal and resigning

The university may terminate your employment before its end date on reasonable grounds. Examples of reasonable grounds are long-term incapacity for work, business termination or incapacity for a job. In the event of premature termination of a temporary contract, the following termination periods apply:

  1. One month if you have been employed for less than six months.
  2. Two months if you’ve been employed between six and twelve months.
  3. Three months if you’ve been employed for at least 12 months without interruption.

These same terms apply if you choose to resign yourself.

In the event of termination, your end-of-year bonus should be paid simultaneously with the very last salary payment. You should receive your holiday allowance over the period between the end of the last period for which the allowance was paid and the dismissal date.

Transition allowance

If your contract ends, you can apply for a transition allowance. This allowance is intended to give you the opportunity to retrain or to start your own business. Again: expiry of a temporary contract is also considered a form of dismissal.

You cannot apply for this allowance if you resigned yourself. Moreover, if you sign a termination agreement (also known as a vaststellingsovereenkomst) with your employer, you make agreements about the allowance. In that case, you will not receive a transition allowance.

A final caveat is that your appeal to a transition allowance expires if you get offered a new contract by the university – regardless of whether you accept it. This does not take into account proportionality of the new contract. Technically you can be offered a much smaller contract and will still be denied the transition allowance. This is a major shortcoming in the current legislation, which should be taken into account in the next negotiations.

As of 1 January 2020, the height of the transition allowance is calculated as follows (not retroactively):

1/3 monthly salary per full year of service from your first working day + gross salary received over the remaining part of the employment contract / gross monthly salary) x (1/3 gross monthly salary / 12)

This formula is also used to calculate the transition allowance if the employment contract has lasted less than one year.

Read more:

The information on this webpage is exhaustive nor complete. You cannot derive any rights from this webpage. For the full text of the collective labour agreement of the Dutch universities, please download the English translation of the CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten. For questions about the collective agreement, contact PNN, the HR department of your university or your labour union. If you see inaccuracies or if you have comments concerning this website, please send an email to

[1] Your local labour organisation may have negotiated additional sources and targets to the ones mentioned here.

[2] Recently, there is a lack of clarity about (bursary) PhDs candidates from outside the EU who wish to receive childcare allowance. The Tax and Customs Administration is of the opinion that they are not entitled to this allowance, because their work cannot be regarded as employment according to Dutch law. Some universities have argued that the Tax and Customs Administration does not take sufficient account of EU-directive 2016/0176 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment. Contact your university if this situation applies to you and you are not sure if you can apply for childcare allowance.

[3] Sometimes an employer leaves employees in so-called ‘dormant employment’ (slapend dienstverband) to avoid paying transition allowances. The Dutch Supreme Court recently ruled that employers are obliged to put an end to dormant employment.

[4] Sometimes local regulations may stipulate that PhD students may only perform executive teaching duties.

[5] However, there is no consensus about an appropriate standard. The labour agreement for research institutes for example already states that PhD candidates may be charged with duties other than research, including teaching, for no more than 10%.

[6] Universities are obliged to bear their own risk for WW benefits. If you become unemployed, the costs of the WW benefit are paid to you by the UWV, but they will charge the costs to the university.