Ensure that Covid-19 compensation also applies to UMCU PhD candidates

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The compensation for PhD students in case of delay due to the coronavirus pandemic does not yet apply to PhD students at the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMCU). This creates legal inequality, say Lieke Schrijvers of the University Council and Jelmer Koorn of the Promovendinetwerk in an open letter signed by several parties.

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Due to the current Covid-19 crisis, many PhD trajectories are delayed. Multiple factors play a role here, among which delayed fieldwork, closed laboratories, illness or (informal) care. Since last July PhD candidates at Utrecht University are able to receive a funded extension of their contract.

PhD candidates from UMC Utrecht, however, are excluded from this arrangement. These are the researchers who have worked particularly hard at the forefront of the crisis in hospitals; whose research had to give way to Covid-19 research; or whose research has been interrupted because laboratories were closed. These PhD candidates still do not have any clarity with regards to the possibility to finish their research. We find it deplorable that this situation has led to legal inequality between two types of PhD candidates: those at the faculty of medicine (UMCU) and those at the other faculties (UU).

Urgency of the matter
When the UU extension fund was put in place, it was stated that the UMCU would come up with a similar arrangement. From the beginning, we have called attention to this matter in our role as University Council and PhD interest group, Prout. Meanwhile nationwide decisions have been made about the funding for delayed research. In October, the Minister of Education already decided that the Dutch Research Council (NWO in the Dutch acronym) should make means available for delayed research. The available 20 million euros are to be distributed among universities, including the UMCs. Why haven't we heard anthing yet?

UU's Executive Board does not have control over UMCU policy or finances, neither does it have the options to actually intervene, only to advice. As University Council, we have repeatedly stressed the urgency of the matter and asked about the state of affairs whenever possible. During the last council meeting on February 1st, Rector Henk Kummeling once again acknowledged the seriousness of this issue and confirmed that he had spoken about it several times with the board of the Faculty of Medicine. We were similarly advised through several other channels, including the Dean of Medicine, the Graduate School of Life Science, policymakers, and UMCU's Education & Research council, also known as O&O due to its Dutch acronym. All of them said that arrangements would be made or that they would at least communicate with the PhD candidates, because temporary research staff has the right to know what their positions and options are.

Better communication
Now, almost a year since the beginning of the pandemic, PhD candidates at the UMCU are still left in the dark. Here and there, supervisors and departments have taken matters into their own hands and extended some contracts. While this is a solution for individual researchers, we believe this is an undesirable situation because it leads to inequality between different UMCU PhD candidates. That is why it is crucial to communicate to UMCU as a whole and make arrangements for all PhD candidates in need. Because there has been no communication so far, we ask public attention to the issue.

We hereby call on the board of UMC Utrecht to take two actions. First, communicate with the PhD candidates and their supervisors about the state of affairs. Secondly, make the necessary resources available as soon as possible and in a manner that is fair to every PhD candidate.

Signatories:
PROUT, Promovendinetwerk Utrecht – Ellen Deelen, Özge Düdükcü, Jelmer Koorn
MD-PhD Committee UMCU – Sanne Groeneveld, Selma Kaffka named Dengler, Maarten Huismans, Lyanne Derksen, Livia Dominicus
Promovendiraad Graduate School of Life Science
Utrecht Promovendipartij – Lieke Schrijvers, Anne van Veen
Erna van Wilsem –  UMCU coordinator 
PhD programma Infection & Immunity
Universiteitsraad Utrecht

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