Unequal impact of the COVID-19 crisis

As the Netherlands is slowly making a restart after the COVID-19 crisis, its impact on academia becomes increasingly apparent. Among the known consequences are study delays, universities struggling to design and organize online education, and challenges to conducting research, especially projects that are carried out in labs or abroad. Moreover, there are indications that the crisis has deepened existing inequalities – between established and early career academics, as well as between male and female researchers. For example, already in April, academic journal editors noticed a decrease in the number of manuscripts submitted by female scholars. Although it may be too early to tell, the drop in output by female scholars may be due to the perpetuation of traditional gender roles in the home, whereby the bulk of the responsibility of childcare continues to fall on women’s shoulders. Notwithstanding the large amount of COVID-19 related funding calls, such indications of deepening inequality require careful reflection on the use of motto’s like ‘using crisis as an opportunity’.

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Guide for dealing with delays as a result of Covid-19

PNN, together with parties such as VSNU, PostdocNL, De Jonge Akademie and trade unions, co-authored a guide for dealing with delays as a result of COVID-19 in the research of PhD candidates, postdocs and tenure trackers. this guideline provides an overview of possible causes of delay, both related to the research and to the personal circumstances, and provides possible solutions to deal with this delay. It also provides various example scenarios, but also indications of the expected delay.

This guide is spread across the universities, which can use it to shape their tailor-made compensation measures for these groups. PhD candidates, postdocs and tenure trackers can also use this document as a preparation for when they enter the discussions about compensation with their employer. The questionnaire at the end of this guide has been drawn up specifically for this purpose.

We hope that this document can help PhD candidates to regain some grip on their PhD trajectory. Unfortunately, however, there are still legal and financial restrictions that can stand in the way of proper compensation. Together with the other parties involved, PNN will continue its efforts to remove these limitations as far as possible.

NB: This document is a guide, but not a hard guideline for universities. The arrangements made by individual universities may deviate from the recommendations in this guide. If your university or institution seriously deviates from the recommendations in this guide, for example by not considering personal circumstances as a reason for delay, please contact your local PhD representatives or PNN.

Protocol restart universities

This week the VSNU has published a protocol for universities while restarting university activities. Unfortunately, this protocol has come available in Dutch only. In brief the most important items for PhD candidates include:
In general:
      • Employees work from home if their work permits;
      • The current RIVM guidelines remain in force for research activities. This means, among other things, that it is possible for institutions to allow employees to carry out research activities at the physical location(s) of higher education institutions, in the event that this research work cannot be carried out remotely and provided it can be organised within the general instructions of RIVM and the Municipal Health Service (GGD);
      • In view of their own responsibility, continuity and organisation, there is scope for institutions to make their own considerations in the application of this protocol in consultation with employee participation;
      • The aim is to ensure equal rights and obligations for (foreign) students and employees when starting up education and research;
      • There is room for customisation in the protective measures to be taken, including for employees and students from at-risk groups. A good balance must be found here with the need to use these resources for care processes.
Research specific:
Universities, KNAW and NWO institutes currently use the following guidelines to fill in the space available for research:
      • For the time being, research activities that can take place at a distance will also take place at a distance;
      • Priority is given to the completion of PhD and postdoctoral research projects within university buildings. The importance of research for health care and the contribution to improving the corona situation are also important.   

Broad collaboration on corona-related problems of PhD candidates

Due to the corona crisis, many PhD candidates encounter problems for various reasons.  PNN is currently collaborating with PostdocNL, VSNU, NFU, NWO and ZonMw to find good solutions and to compensate PhD candidates for any delays they incur. In this statement (in Dutch – English version follows later) we set out the joint objectives of this collaboration. PNN is confident that this collaboration will lead to generous, tailor-made compensation for PhD candidates. In the coming weeks, the statement will be further elaborated upon, taking into account the major differences between research areas but also differences between types of PhD trajectories.

Previously, PNN has published its own statement regarding PhD trajectories in times of Corona. Our chair Lucille Mattijssen explained the recommendations of PNN to the Higher Education Press. Many of these recommendations have been incorporated into the joint statement. For example, universities are urged to ensure that health does not have to be subordinated to research, but that existing research can be continued at an appropriate time. Universities are also encouraged to offer PhD students the choice between a digital defense and postponement of the defense as much as possible.

Do you have a personal, corona-related problem that you would like to share with us, please email info@hetpnn.nl.  and we will include it in our further conversations!