RUG wants 750 PhDs

The RUG wants to bring in 750 PhD candidates via the experiment from minister Bussemaker.

That statement is included in a notice from the university board. If the university’s request is approved, the first experimental PhD candidates – formerly known as bursary students – will begin in 2016.

The minister’s experiment aims to provide 2,000 PhD candidates with a study grant for eight years instead  of paying them a salary. In doing so, the universities are not required to pay employer taxes or pension funds. These PhD candidates will cost the university 20,000 euros a year, which is one-third less than traditional PhD candidates.

The RUG made use of a similar construction for years, but was forced to stop abruptly after talks with the tax services. Bussemaker came to the RUG’s aid and is hoping to reach Dutch students who would prefer to remain in the Netherlands while working toward their doctoral degrees.


In order to be able to take part in the experiment, the university must be able to demonstrate the distinction between promotion students and normal PhD candidates who are paid wages. And that is a touchy subject.

According to the RUG, the differences are that promotion students can choose the subject of their research on their own and that their promoter is a coach rather than a manager. Promotion students are also required to continue attending classes, but will not be required to teach.

But that distinction is not in keeping with reality, according to Jan-Wouter Zwart, director of the Graduate School for Humanities. He says that the differences were invented by the RUG in order to win the latest lawsuit about the status of promotion students. ‘It’s a remarkable plea that goes beyond what the position is in actual practice, where thesis advisors don’t distinguish between traditional PhD candidates and the promotion students.’

‘Beyond how it is financed, there has never been a difference in the working conditions of the PhD candidates, their academic trajectory or the relationship they have with their managers’, Zwart writes in an advisory note addressed to the Faculty of the Arts. With their own notice, the university aims to implement the yet-to-be accepted changes. According to Zwart, that would be tantamount to creating second-class PhD candidates. ‘If we do this, then as far as I can see, we’ve lost our way.’


The university board has asked each faculty if they want to take part in the experiment. In any case, the arts faculty intends to make use of the relatively cheap PhD candidates in order to increase the number of promotions from the faculty. ‘That is something which is essential to the finances of the faculty’, according to faculty board member Gerry Wakker, as written in a letter to the university board. Following Zwart’s missive, she has doubts about whether or not it will be possible to make a distinction between regular PhD candidates and the promotional students.

The university has to submit its proposal to the minister before 1 November. If the promotion students do come, the university wants to look into whether or not the money the students pay in tuition fees can be partially or perhaps fully refunded. The RUG is also committed to providing affordable and good quality health insurance for the promotion students, as well as ensuring that benefits such as pregnancy leave and child care assistance will be made available to them.