Bursary benefits guaranteed
According to a briefing note for the University Council, PhD students at the RUG via a ministry of education experiment will receive the same benefits as traditional PhD candidates – with a few notable exceptions.
The status of the students is officially that of ‘notional employee’ (fictief werknemer), meaning that they are not technically an employee. The term ‘notional employee’ doesn’t sound great, Groningen Graduate Schools dean Lou de Leij concedes, ‘but it is incredibly important, because it is a highly effective way to legally guarantee the status of a PhD student with a grant. That includes the increasing number of PhDs who will be bringing their own grant.’
The special status will include wages and salaries tax as a levy on income tax and social security contributions, which renders students eligible for housing benefits, healthcare subsidies, child care and up to three months of unemployment insurance. The premiums should be paid by the faculty where the PhD student is working.
Crucially, the briefing note also says that this special status has been affirmed by the Dutch tax services as well: ‘Consultation with the Tax and Customs Administration has confirmed that this is an acceptable route.’ However, ‘these scholarship PhD students will not pay pension contributions and they will not receive a year-end bonus (eindejaarsuitkering) or holiday pay (vakantiegeld)’, according to the document.
Qualifying for the housing subsidies also means that students will have more options in terms of choosing where to live. Previously, some PhD students who brought their own funding from their home country were more or less required to live in SSH (or, previously, Housing Office) rooms in buildings such as Hoendiep and Stadswerf because they were only eligible for a 400 euro subsidy for housing from the RUG rather than from the tax services. ‘It was done with good intentions’, De Leij says, ‘but in reality, it didn’t always turn out right.’
Marjan Koopmans, projects manager for the Groningen Graduate Schools at the RUG, affirms that the new structure is more beneficial and adaptable for the students. ‘The PhD students are absolutely eligible for rental subsidies now. They pay social premiums, so that qualifies them for the subsidy, but they are free to choose where they want to live.’
Rieza Aprianto, a PhD candidate and University Council member, says that the detailed benefits are in keeping with what the Council agreed upon last month. The changes to the rental subsidy – shifting the responsibility from the university itself to the tax services – are also an improvement. ‘It’s easier for both the university and the bursaries to let prospective bursaries find their own accommodation, as long as SSH’s services are still available as they are to other international students.’
Aprianto is pleased about the other benefits that have been guaranteed for the PhD students. ‘I think that we have milked the best out of the situation, but the differences are still there: no raise for the next four years and no holiday money’, he says. ‘You can call me naive, but a PhD will go to the office every day and try to finish in time not because of the salary and benefits each month, but because he or she likes the project and believes in it.’
The briefing note will be considered for approval during the University Council meeting on Thursday. The university is hoping to have 850 PhD student positions approved, each of whom will receive 1,700 euros per month in the form of a grant.