More vacancies for PhD students

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How many PhD students are there in the Netherlands? Although this seems like a fairly straightforward question, the answer is anything but. Estimates vary from ten to twenty thousand, but nobody knows for sure. Additionally, there is no nationwide overview of their working conditions or of the term and scope of their employment contracts.

Own survey
For many years, the Dutch PhD Network (PNN in the Dutch acronym) has been asking the Ministry of Education, universities and university teaching hospitals for more information about their PhD students. In doing so, they hope to improve the policy regarding PhD students.

In the meantime, since 2015 PNN has been improvising with its own Monitor Arbeidsomstandigheden Promovendi (PhD Students’ Working Conditions Survey), which is based on advertisements on the job site Academic Transfer.

The most recent edition, published in 2020 (only in Dutch), states that the number of vacancies for PhD positions has risen 27.4 percent since 2019. The growth is mostly driven by the natural sciences and engineering.

In addition, more than 90 percent of working PhD students were offered a contract for four years or more. That figure is nine percentage points higher than in 2019. PNN is pleased about this, because it has been complaining for years about inadequate contracts.

The network does note that advertisements for PhD positions still contain a lot of ambiguities. For instance, the vast majority of PhD students have teaching assignments, but only 26.2 percent of the job postings state that this is expected of them. PNN hopes that the job posting checklist that they sent to employers will change this situation.

Furthermore, information about maternity and parental leave, the travel allowance and the 30 percent tax scheme (page in Dutch) for international employees is still lacking.

In June, the Dutch Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, told the House of Representatives that she is in dialogue with universities, hospitals, the Dutch Research Council and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. She believes it is the responsibility of the employers to talk with PNN regarding good working conditions for PhD students.