How many PhD students are there in the Netherlands? It seems like a fairly straightforward question, but the answer is anything but. Estimates vary from ten to twenty thousand, but nobody knows for sure. Moreover, there is no nationwide overview of their working conditions or of the term and scope of their employment contracts.
For many years the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) has been asking the ministry, universities and university teaching hospitals for more information about their PhD students. The hope is that this will benefit the policy regarding PhD candidates.
In the meantime, since 2015 PNN has been improvising with its own Monitor Arbeidsomstandigheden Promovendi (PhD Students’ Working Conditions Survey), based on advertisements on the job site Academic Transfer.
The recently published edition for 2020 states that the number of vacancies for PhD positions has risen 27.4 percent since 2019, driven in large part by growth in the natural sciences and engineering.
In addition, more than 90 percent of the working PhD researchers were offered a contract for four years or more. That figure is nine percentage points higher than in 2019. PNN is pleased about this, because it has been complaining for years about inadequate contracts.
The network does note that advertisements for PhD positions still contain a lot of ambiguities. For instance, the vast majority of PhD researchers have teaching assignments, but only 26.2 percent of the job postings state that this is expected of them. PNN hopes that the special job posting checklist that it has sent to employers will change this.
Furthermore, information about maternity and parental leave, the travel allowance and the 30 percent tax scheme for international employees is still lacking.
In June, education minister Ingrid van Engelshoven told the House of Representatives that she is in dialogue with the universities, the hospitals, the Dutch Research Council and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. She believes it is the responsibility of the employers to talk with PNN regarding good working conditions for PhD students.