Statement by eurodoc

Best practice of employee status for PhDs in the Netherlands threatened

Eurodoc is greatly concerned about new developments indicating that the employee status of PhD candidates in the Netherlands is no longer secure. At the University of Groningen, a group of scholarship-funded PhD candidates were given student status by the university. This group, along with the trade union Abvakabo FNV, filed a lawsuit against the university of Groningen in order to acquire employee status. The court of appeals in Leeuwarden has now overturned an earlier ruling and ruled in favour of the university, classifying the scholarship-funded PhD candidates as students.

This is the first time that a judge in the Netherlands has ruled that certain PhD candidates are not employees of the university. Earlier cases at the University of Amsterdam and Utrecht University have always resulted in rulings in favour of the PhD candidates, reaffirming their status as employees.

Eurodoc has viewed the employee status of PhD candidates in the Netherlands as a European best practice example since 2005. In the European Charter for Researchers, the European Commission states that early stage researchers, among which doctoral candidates, should be recognized as professionals, and be treated accordingly. The provision of employment contracts to PhD candidates that provide employee benefits such as parental leave, pension rights, sick pay, and unemployment benefits enhances the attractiveness of research careers within Europe. This is necessary to recruit and retain high quality researchers, and to encourage more young people to pursue a career in research. In alignment with the European University Association, as stated in the Salzburg II recommendations, Eurodoc has continuously promoted the professional status of PhD candidates.

Eurodoc explicitly expresses its strong concern that the ruling that classifies certain PhD candidates in the Netherlands as students might lead to crowding out of employee PhDs by student PhDs for financial reasons. This would be a setback for the Dutch system and could prevent progress towards a professional status for doctoral candidates in other European countries .

Eurodoc urges Dutch politicians to protect PhD candidates by enshrining their employee status in law with a guarantee of equal social-security rights for all PhD candidates independent of how their doctoral training is funded.