PhD students unaware of their rights, says PNN

Having a baby, long-term illness, serving on a participatory body... PhD candidates often have no idea of their rights when it comes to obtaining a contract extension, says PhD Network Netherlands (PNN).

Pregnant PhD students are entitled to at least sixteen weeks of maternity leave around the birth of their child. This also means that they have the right to extend their PhD contract by the same length of time. Yet according to a PNN survey, only 64 percent of female PhD students are aware that this is the case.


The organisation, which represents the rights of this group, contacted almost 800 PhD students and asked them about various aspects of their working conditions. In addition to maternity leave, PhD students can also apply for parental leave with the right to a contract extension. However, only 36 percent of PhD students are aware of this entitlement.

These aspects of a PhD student’s working conditions are set out in the collective labour agreement for universities in the Netherlands. PNN believes that PhD students are not familiar enough with these rights and that something needs to be done to raise their level of awareness.


PhD candidates also have the opportunity to serve on a participatory body or to do an internship. The collective labour agreement states that the employment contract ‘can be extended’ for this purpose. As PNN warns, this wording means that an extension is not guaranteed under these circumstances and is not always granted. The organisation regards these and similar instances as loopholes in the agreement.

A similar example concerns PhD students who have been ill for eight consecutive weeks or longer. Under these circumstances they can apply for an extension, but in many cases the answer is likely to be no.

Of the almost 800 respondents to the PNN survey, 75 had been ill for eight weeks or longer. Yet only fourteen of them had their contract extended. Some did not know that they could ask for an extension, while others felt they had been discouraged from doing so or had yet to submit their request.

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