RUG wants to get going with bursary experiment

The RUG plans to enrol 850 PhD. students via the experiment proposed by minister Bussemaker.

On Tuesday, the university discussed their request with the Ministry of Education. On Thursday, the plans will be up for a vote for the students and staff in the University Council. And by 15 March, the RUG must submit its official application. If it is approved, the first PhD. students can begin in September.

The minister wants to provide a grant instead of a salary for 2,000 PhD. students over the course of eight years as a sort of pilot. Under that construct, universities are not required to pay payroll tax or contribute to pension funds. That makes the bursary candidates one-third less expensive than traditional PhD. candidates, each of whom typically costs 20,000 euros a year.


The RUG has made use of PhD. students for years but was suddenly forced to stop after discussions with the tax services. Bussemakker came to the RUG’s rescue and hoped that the experiment would provide a means for Dutch students to remain in the Netherlands to pursue a PhD.

In order to be able to participate in the experiment, the university must be able to demonstrate the difference between PhD. students and the traditional PhD. candidates who are on the university’s payroll. According to the RUG, the distinction between the traditional PhD. candidates and those in the experiment is that the bursaries will choose, write and defend their own research topic. Additionally, the PhD student is required enrol in courses, but does not have to teach on the university level.


The goal of the plans is to ensure that candidates are better prepared to follow a PhD. track by creating a better connection between the research master and the PhD. position. PhD. students should also become equipped to enter a career either within academia or elsewhere.

The RUG wants to get going with the experiment as soon as possible in order to have an advantage over other universities, but there are only two universities who are even in the first round of the race: the RUG and the University of Rotterdam. The Erasmus University Rotterdam is requesting ‘only’ 15 bursaries.


The bursaries will receive a 1,700 net grant and the RUG will also provide ‘the best possible secondary social benefits’, but what that actually entails remains unclear. Only after the university has discussed the matter with the tax services will more clarity be provided about health insurance and benefits such as maternity leave.

The experiment will be covered by the Ubbo Emmius programme, which is a pot of money for the PhD. positions that is financed by the Ministry of Education. That should ensure that there is only one type of bursary candidate so that the bursaries will all have the same grant, rights and obligations. That should also mean ‘substantially less administrative fuss’, according to the plan.


Every faculty at the RUG has indicated their willingness to participate in the experiment. Out of the total costs for the PhD. students, 40 per cent will be paid for via the Board of Directors. The remainder will be the responsibility of the faculties. In addition to that, the Board of Directors has approved of spending 100,000 euros to provide courses about career perspectives, recruiting candidates and further execution of the plans.

On Thursday, the University Council will be asked to vote on the plans. Because no agreement has been made with the tax services, the financial aspect will be presented to the council at the end of the month.