PhD Network Netherlands: 'Don’t turn your back on international PhD candidates on scholarships'

The pressing problems faced by international PhD candidates on scholarships? Still the same, according to a short letter Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf sent to the House of Representatives on Tuesday. PhD Network Netherlands (PNN) is frustrated about the matter.

Last autumn, PNN reported that many of the approximately 3,800 international PhD candidates on scholarships in the Netherlands can barely make ends meet. Unless they take a part-time job or receive additional support from their family, they struggle to survive.

In many cases, the scholarship they receive (from their own country) is not supplemented by the Dutch university where they work. PNN points out that their legal position is weak. This leads to socially unsafe situations and damages their mental health.

Crossed letters

The House of Representatives wanted to know the minister’s view of the situation. His answer, which came this week, was short: he already told them last December. 'My letter and your House committee’s letter probably crossed in the mail.'

In his earlier letter, Dijkgraaf promised to talk to universities about this group of vulnerable international PhD candidates. The minister doesn’t add anything to this message yet.

Too expensive

PNN wants the Dutch universities to employ the PhD candidates, but Dijkgraaf already stated in December that this solution would be too expensive. Nor can he put universities’ minds at ease about possible additional tax assessments from the Tax and Customs Administration. After all, they take 'case-to-case' decisions based on individual circumstances. And they always do this after the fact. As for a unanimously backed motion by CDA to draw up national fiscal rules for supplementary grants, he was simply unable to implement it.

PNN is now calling on everyone concerned to keep the interests of these international PhD candidates in mind. 'We cannot turn our backs on them', says chair Benthe van Wanrooij. 'For their wellbeing and the quality of their research, it’s essential to provide them with better support during the PhD process.'

On 20 March, the House of Representatives is due to debate the position of international PhD candidates on scholarships.

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