GRIN has written an open letter to the new Dean of Graduate Studies, together with the PhDs behind the manifesto and the PhDs in the University Council. In the letter, we discuss the recent developments of the PhD scholarship experiment and how things should move forward.
After the board of the University of Groningen decided to apply for an additional 650 PhD scholarship positions, policy changes were promised to accommodate to issues raised by PNN, the University Council and, most importantly, scholarship PhDs themselves, in the form of a manifesto. This memo by the Groningen Graduate Interest Network (GRIN) was created after collecting input from all PhD Councils and aims to propose specific changes to the University of Groningen (RUG)
Various benefits offered to employees to facilitate their functioning as researchers do not befall upon scholarship PhD candidates, even though these benefits are equally essential for either type of PhD candidate to facilitate their research activities and guarantee their occupational health. These benefits include but are not limited to travel reimbursements, the laptop- and tablet reimbursement scheme, the bike plan, a free eye test and computer glasses. Furthermore, various additional benefits were promised to scholarship PhD candidates but not granted uniformly, such as freedom of research topic, no teaching obligations, additional educational opportunities, freedom of working hours and freedom of residence.
GRIN urges the RUG to grant scholarship PhD candidates the various benefits offered to employee PhD candidates which support their functioning and well-being as researchers. Furthermore, the university should ensure that the benefits promised to scholarship PhD candidates are granted in practice and not only on paper, as well as enforce the freedom of working conditions outlined in the scholarship contract.
Teaching opportunities and obligations
Opportunities for teaching are very limited for scholarship PhD candidates who wish to obtain teaching qualifications, with only one teaching course and barely any formal recognition of the skills obtained during this programme. Meanwhile, scholarship PhD candidates at some faculties were expected and in some cases even forced to teach, despite their contract indicating that they have no obligation in this regard . Moreover, these PhDs were not financially compensated for these activities on basis of the contract prohibiting teaching.
GRIN proposes that current opportunities for scholarship PhD candidates to gain teaching experience and qualifications are expanded in three ways: first of all, the university should facilitate advanced courses in teaching beyond “starting to teach”, enabling scholarship PhD candidates to acquire a University Teaching Qualification (“BKO”). Second, a separate course focussing on thesis supervision is desired. Lastly, there should be no teaching activities outside of these courses for PhDs that fall under the experiment, unless a way is found to financially compensate them. To verify this, all education and supervision provided by PhD students should be registered in Hora Finita.
Information granted to scholarship PhD candidates regarding the nature of their position and of the experiment as a whole has been lacking to the point that many scholarship PhD candidates cannot speak of providing their informed consent to participate in the experiment. At the point of writing, no clear comparison between the contracts of scholarship PhD candidates and those of employed PhDs has been provided by the RUG.
GRIN stresses that the university has the responsibility to fully inform new scholarship PhD candidates of any differences between their position and employment status, stressing the fact that they are participating in an experiment, befitting the standards of informed consent.
Whereas the new generation of scholarship PhD candidates will enjoy more reasonable working conditions if the proposals of this letter are accepted, 850 candidates have already started with their PhD, many of whom have suffered financially or otherwise from the problems outlined above. GRIN asks compensation for the scholarship PhD candidates currently working for the RUG, on the basis that the university has not upheld the terms of the scholarship contract and that many scholarship PhD candidates did not grant their informed consent with participation in the scholarship experiment due to a lack of information provided as outlined above.