'Money and clarity needed for three months wasted'

| Rense Kuipers

The Young Academy of the UT was one of the signatories of the highly critical letter that went to Minister Van Engelshoven earlier this week. According to board member Jeroen Rouwkema, the minister must allocate some 15 million euros for the 'three months wasted' by young UT scientists.

Photo by: FOKKE EENHOORN

The PhD Network Netherlands, PostdocNL and The Young Academy wrote the letter in which they asked the minister for a 'continuity package' of 350 million euros for young scientists. The scope of the letter was in essence: the consequences of the crisis - from closed labs and unsuccessful experiments to unreachable test subjects - meant that young researchers on temporary contracts in particular found themselves in a tight spot.

Wasted months

Jeroen Rouwkema, member of the board of the Young Academy of the UT (YA@UT), who signed the letter, confirms this sentiment. 'The lack of clarity is something that is certainly alive among young researchers at the UT, from PhDs and postdocs to tenure trackers,' says Rouwkema, himself associate professor at the Biomechanical Engineering group. 'In our group, many PhD students are highly dependent on the labs. Because the labs were closed for months, practically everyone who does experimental or person-centred research can be counted as having lost three months from mid-March.'

For PhD students and postdocs, the wounds are even deeper because of their temporary contracts, says Rouwkema. 'PhD students usually get a contract for four years, postdocs for one or two years. The crisis takes such a bite out of their process, that delay has to be compensated,' says the researcher. He also pleads for an arrangement for tenure trackers, who have to cope with strict assessment moments and are dependent on these for their career development.

Financial problem

The authors are asking for a compensation package of 350 million euros. Rouwkema thinks the UT needs about 15 million euros from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, just to make up for the lost time of PhD students. 'The minister has indicated that universities have the space to extend contracts, but the UT does not have the financial means to compensate for the approximately 1,000 researchers it concerns. Ultimately it's a financial problem, which is why we're aiming our arrows at the ministry.'

'Lack of clarity from UT'

Rouwkema argues that the UT should also take its role. 'Above all, we're missing a bit of clarity. There is clarity in the field of education and safety measures on campus. But in every meeting I have with PhD students, they ask whether they have any prospect of extending their contract. So clarity is desirable, if only by the Executive Board letting us know that they are working on it.'

Long haul

Responses came in abundance on the letter, the researcher knows. 'We received an e-mail yesterday from the national Young Academy with the message that it will be picked up. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has already requested more information regarding the grounds for the 350 million euros. It has also been stated that parliamentary questions on this subject will be asked after the summer recess. It will probably be a process of the long haul, but we have taken the first step.'