Employment Conditions Monitor

No decrease in the number of dubious PhD contrast, large differences between universities

Last year, a total of 231 dubious positions for PhD candidates were offered. This is 12.3 percent of the total number of PhD vacancies published in that year. This is evident from the Employment Conditions Monitor published by Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN) every year. This picture is in line with previous years: the share of dubious contracts fluctuates between 10 and 15 percent. For the first time, the Monitor also shows differences between types of institutions, disciplines and universities.

There are significant differences between universities in the share of dubious contracts they offer. The percentage of dubious contracts offered per university varies between 20.3 percent (VU University Amsterdam) and only 1.5 percent (TU Eindhoven). In addition, there is sometimes a large share of contracts for which no contract duration is stated: sometimes up to 11.7 percent of the positions offered (University of Amsterdam). In addition, the length of the doctoral program differs per type of institution. In 2019, 84.9 percent of positions at research institutions were offered for a four-year period and 82.6 percent at universities. At the same time, only 59.0 percent of the positions at other healthcare institutions are for four years, 57.4 percent of the UMC vacancies and only 41.4 percent of the other providers. The latter group also most often omits the contract duration completely (44.8 percent).

A second important finding is that only a few vacancies for PhD candidates are transparent about working conditions. Only 3 percent of all vacancies were able to meet all basic criteria, such as the applicable collective labour agreement, contract duration, salary, and educational burden. Furthermore, transparency differs strongly per discipline. For example, three-quarters of vacancies in Law score well on the criteria. This is different for Economics, where nearly half fewer vacancies meet sufficient criteria.

PNN sees that the great majority of vacancies offer good employment conditions and working conditions. At the same time, the share of dubious contracts remains substantial. Since the Employment Conditions Monitor only looks at formal vacancies, which account for about half of the total number of PhD positions, this is probably the tip of the iceberg. That is why PNN calls on universities and graduate schools to take a critical look at the places where contracts are near the margins of working conditions. They should also learn to recognize and actively discourage dubious contracts.

PNN also calls on institutions to be more transparent about the appointments of PhD candidates. This not only concerns the most basic components such as contract length and contract size, but also features that are specifically relevant to the PhD track and the well-being of PhD candidates: what is the teaching load? Is there an evaluation moment?

By showing differences between universities, PNN wants to convey the message that there are not only bad developments, but that there are also universities that demonstrate good employment practices, and that they do have an eye for the PhD candidate as an employee. Employers can therefore take an example from the results presented in this Monitor.

Due to persistent attempts to cut in the terms and conditions of employment of PhD candidates, PNN has been looking at developments in the terms and conditions of employment for PhDs candidates working in the Netherlands for five years with the Employment Conditions Monitor. This is done on the basis of vacancy data from AcademicTransfer, the scientific vacancy database in the Netherlands. In 2019, 1,872 vacancies aimed at PhD candidates were posted on AcademicTransfer.

Note: The numbers of dubious contracts also include vacancies for so-called PDEng positions. For the University of Twente these are 18 out of 20 contracts (15.1%), for Delft University of Technology these are 2 out of 3 contracts (1.0%).