Many struggle financially; UU will try to solve the issue at the national level

Most universities not helping PhD candidates on scholarships

Illustration: Pixabay

A survey recently conducted by PNN revealed that the income of the approximately 3,800 international PhD candidates living in the Netherlands on foreign scholarships is often below the minimum wage. These PhD candidates have to make ends meet on an average of 1,400 euros per month, while some have to manage on as little as 700 euros per month.

They are considerably less well-off than PhD candidates employed by the universities, who receive a gross salary of between 2,800 and 3,500 euros per month. As PhD candidates on scholarships are neither considered student nor employees, they generally do not qualify for student accommodation. They also cannot claim any allowances.

Ideally, PNN would like institutes to hire the international scholarship PhD candidates as employees, with the scholarships from their home countries being used to subsidise part of their salaries. Failing this, they should at least top up their scholarship amounts.

Topping up
According to a study by PNN and HOP, five of the fifteen Dutch universities provide their international PhD candidates on scholarships with some financial assistance. Leiden and Wageningen provide a top-up to 1,508 euros, the income standard set by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service IND as a condition for granting a residence permit to researchers. Wageningen made this decision in early September, despite the Executive Board’s lack of explicit authorisation from the Tax and Customs Administration to do so.

“We don’t know if it’s allowed or not”, Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol told University magazine Resource. The provision is costing the University over two million euros, bringing with it the risk that the Tax and Customs Administration may still impose an additional tax assessment. The situation is different for future PhD candidates: from January 2024, they will only be welcome in Wageningen if their scholarship meets the IND standard and also rises in line with inflation.

The University of Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen go a step further: they top up the scholarship to 1,614 and 1,700 euros, respectively.

The University of Groningen (RUG) is the most generous. International PhD candidates on scholarships receive the same amount as Dutch PhD students covered by the university’s PhD Scholarship Experiment. That's a net sum of 2,265 euros. The University of Groningen says that, by paying taxes and contributions on the gross amount, they can also access social welfare provisions such as allowances. The experiment with Dutch scholarship PhD candidates is controversial, however, and is set to end in 2024 (article in Dutch, Ed.).

Little to nothing
The ten other universities do not offer a general top-up. At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, some departments and faculties are temporarily sharing the burden in individual cases. Maastricht University informs that it has a policy of organising accommodation for its first-year PhD students from China.

The remaining six universities have nothing in the way of a top-up provision for now. The University of Twente notes that the possibilities for topping up are limited and that there are different approaches among regional tax inspectors with regard to them. “We and the other universities have advocated on multiple occasions for the introduction of a national top-up policy. So far, nothing along those lines has been put in place.”

Top-up grant for international PhD candidates with scholarships



Leiden University

topped up to €1.508,22

Wageningen University

topped up to €1.508,22

University of Amsterdam

topped up to €1.614

Radboud University

topped up to €1.700

University of Groningen

topped up to €2.265 (net)

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

no top-up, provision by individual departments or faculties

Maastricht University

no top-up

Utrecht University

no top-up

TU Delft

no top-up

TU Eindhoven

no top-up

Twente University

no top-up

Erasmus University Rotterdam

no top-up

Tilburg University

no top-up

University of Humanistic Studies

no top-up (no PhD candidates on scholarships)

Open University

no top-up (no PhD candidates on scholarships)


© HOP. Source: PNN and universities

PNN is pushing for action in the short term. It supports the introduction of a national policy to eliminate any further legal inequality. The House of Representatives agrees with this view. Last year, it passed a motion brought by the political party CDA calling on the government to make national agreements between the relevant ministries, the Tax and Customs Administration, benefits agency UWV and Sociale Verzekeringsbank (SVB). This motion has yet to be implemented.

PNN board member Benthe van Wanrooij believes that there is no excuse for universities to fold their arms and do nothing, however. “Together with our members, the local PhD candidate organisations, we encourage institutions to reach agreements with their individual tax inspectors in the meantime.”

Tags: student-PhDs