Dijkgraaf emphasises need for clear rules for PhDs

Last year, the PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) concluded that the rules for PhDs are not always clear, and that this sometimes has painful consequences. Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf is encouraging the universities to take joint action to provide greater clarity.

Photo by: Gijs van Ouwerkerk

It is essential for PhD candidates to be fully aware of their rights and obligations, the award of the doctorate and the defence of the thesis, Minister Dijkgraaf writes in response to a critical PNN investigation. ‘Uncertainty about a PhD can lead to unwanted stress and high workloads, which could be prevented by transparent policy’, according to the minister.

Unclear rules

According to PNN, which compared the rules for PhDs at 15 Dutch universities, there are – in addition to the central rules for PhDs – many different local rules that aren’t easy to find. PhD candidates do not always know what they have to do.

It was a unique occurrence, dating back to two years ago, that led to the study. A PhD candidate in Tilburg was not awarded a doctorate, even though she defended her thesis. She finally received it after a retake.


To prevent these kinds of situations, PNN wants universities to include all the rules and assessment criteria in their central rules for PhDs. The public defence of the thesis ought to be purely ceremonial and not an actual assessment. If that is not the case and PhD candidates can actually fail, this must be made clear in advance. The possible avenues of appeal must also be included in the rules.

According to Dijkgraaf, who has talked to PNN, it is up to the universities to decide what to do with the recommendations. The network will have formal discussions with the universities in May.

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