PhD Students

PhD trajectories in the Netherlands are internationally recognized as being of high quality. PhD publications are in both qualitative and quantitative terms highly ranked. Overall, PhD candidates play an important role in the  academic output of Dutch universities. They make up almost thirty percent of the total number of scientific staff of universities. In general, PhDs in the Netherlands are regarded as employees rather than students.

However, this employee status has came under pressure. The association of universities in The Netherlands (VSNU) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science increasingly regard PhDs as students rather than as employees. Consequently, they wanted to employ PhDs on bursaries instead of on employment terms. This implies that PhDs will not receive a salary anymore, but a bursary instead. Furthermore, they are not eligible for, for instance, unemployment benefits once their contract ends and (paid) maternity leave. Besides that, a desk and office within the university is at stake. In short, treating PhDs as students instead of seeing them as employees, has severe consequences for PhDs and are likely to make doing a PhD less attractive to talented students.

As a result of the above mentioned reasons, PNN is against a student status for PhDs. This viewpoint has been expressed by PNN in national media (see the list of press releases below), to members of Parliament and to the Dutch Ministry of Education.

As a consequence of the controversy that the bursary experiment caused within higher education, the former Minister of Education (Jet Bussemaker, PvdA) decided to stop with the implementation of ‘bursary-student-legislation’. She decided to start with experimental leglisation  to investigate the effect of so-called bursary PhDs on a small scale, before making her final decision. Despite the negative advice of the Council of State to continue with this. Given that a majority of the members of Parliament approved the experiment in 2015, a number of  universities is currently joining this experiment and employ PhD students. A condition for the introduction of this experiment was, among other things, that an interim evaluation would take place to prevent thee PhD students from being disadvantaged if the experiment turned out to be less positive. 

Right from the start, the experiment met with criticism, as described by Science Guide, the Young Academy, trade unions and student organizations such as ISO and LSVB. Quite soon after the experiment was introduced, also at PNN, objections from the PhD students arrived. They feel they are second-rate PhD students because they have to do the same work as “regular” PhD students but have poorer working conditions and believe that the promised benefits of the experiment, such as more academic freedom, are not being achieved.

In the spring of 2019, CHEPS research agency presented an interim evaluation. PNN believes that this interim evaluation does not provide the answers to the questions to be answered. See also our detailed response (in Dutch). Unfortunately, under pressure from the Parliament, the current Minister of Education has promised to continue the experiment. This means that universities can register again from 2020. Although, in the first instance the minister indicated that she had faith in the interim evaluation report, it was announced in October that an independent investigation would be conducted to examine this interim evaluation

With this page, we will try to keep you up-to-date on the experiment. You can also find links to publications, however most are in Dutch. Any questions on this topic may be adressed to PNN through

Overview of relevant PNN press releases:


11 September 2015: University council in Leiden disapproves of bursary experiment 

17 January 2014: PNN expresses worries and recommendations regarding student PhD candidate experiment

15 May 2013: Eurodoc statement: Best practice of employee status for PhDs in the Netherlands 


30 January 2020:  Ook filosofie stopt met beurspromovendi

28 January 2020: Een promovendus is wat waard!

24 October 2019: Extra check op tussenevaluatie promotieonderwijs

15 July 2019: Minister twijfelt niet aan evaluatie promotieonderwijs

3 July 2019: Reactie PNN op tussenevaluatie experiment promotieonderwijs

2 July 2019: Minister wil experiment studentenpromovendi toch verlengen

5 June 2019: Open brief Tweede Kamer: stem tegen verdere afbraak Nederlands promotiestelsel!

18 October 2016: Promovendi Netwerk Nederland: RUG negeert regels

18 October 2016: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen springt te los om met promovendi

11 May 2016: Bezuinigingen over de RUG van universiteiten (opinieartikel op ScienceGuide)

11 May 2016: Promotiestudent toch niet zo populair bij universiteiten

26 February 2016: Alleen Groningen dol op Promotiestudenten

19 January 2016: Raad van State Kritisch over Promotiestudent

8 January 2016: Officiële bekendmaking experiment Promotiestudent

11 September 2015: Leidse medezeggenschap zet streep door experiment promotiestudent

3  July 2015: Promovendi betalen of beurs 

2 June 2015: Duizenden handtekeningen tegen experimenteren met promotiestudenten

2 March 2015: Overzicht inbreng schriftelijk overleg experiment promotieonderwijs

12 February 2015: Ervaringen van een beurspromovendus

11 February 2015: On-wetenschappelijk experiment met promovendi

17 June 2014: Reconstructie ervaringen met experiment promotiestudent jaren 90

2 December 2013: PNN uit zorgen over en geeft aanbevelingen voor experiment promotiestudenten

13 July 2013: Promovendi kritisch over bursalensysteem

22 May 2013: Zaak promovendi kansrijk bij Hoge Raad

26 April 2013: Teleurstellende uitspraak in zaak bursaalpromovendi 

22 January 2013: Promotiestudent geschrapt uit de wijziging op de Wet op het hoger onderwijs 

4 October 2011: Artikel in Trouw 

27 September 2011: Bursalenstelsel 

11 April 2011: Kamervragen over invoering bursalenstel 

2 March 2011: Campagne tegen het bursalenstelsel 

Professional PhD Program

The Professional PhD Program (PPP) is an initiative from the PhD Candidates Network of the Netherlands (PNN) to improve the transition of PhDs in the Netherlands to a career outside of academia. Although most PhD programs focus on an academic career, approximately 70% of PhDs work outside of academia, for example in the public sector or in business. By participating in the PPP, successful PhD candidates are given a chance to work at an organization outside of the university for several months on a practical project required by the company. The PPP was originally started with a subsidy from the Social Fund for the Knowledge Sector (SoFoKleS).

The duration of the PPP is between 3 and 6 months. The project can be carried out part-time (from 0.2 FTE) or full-time (1.0 FTE with unpaid leave). The company pays only the salary part of the costs of the PhD candidate (thus no WW responsibility) according to the conditions of the CAO NU/UMC/OI. PNN is not involved in the contract between the PhD candidate and the company, but only facilitates the vacancies and contacts, and is thus not legally responsible. The two parties establish a plan stating the tasks and timeline involved in the project. After completing the project, the PhD candidate returns to the university to complete their dissertation.

PNN hopes with the PPP to show how valuable PhD candidates can be outside of academia and to strengthen cooperation between universities and business. During the PPP, organizations learn the added value of a PhD for their organization. They get to employ talented individuals who are known for their analytical skills, specialized knowledge, and willingness to work hard at a relatively low cost. PhD candidates, on the other hand, learn to consciously apply the transferable skills gained during their PhD program, such as good project management and professional presentation, and get the opportunity to contribute to an actual company project. The PhD candidates come in contact with various organizations outside of science and get a clear picture of career opportunities after their PhD.

For more information on the PPP see this infosheet or mail us via!