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PhD bonus scrapped

MAASTRICHT/THE NETHERLANDS> Universities will no longer receive a fixed amount for every PhD. thesis. An end will be put to the so-called PhD bonus, education minister Jet Bussemaker and state secretary Sander Dekker announced today.

At the moment, universities receive a substantial amount of up to 90 thousand euro for each successfully completed PhD thesis. As the number of PhD candidates is increasing, university funding is more and more dependent on the number of PhD graduates.

Minister Bussemaker and state secretary Dekker intend to put an end to this. In 2015, 24.1 per cent of the university budget will be for PhD bonuses and they feel that this is too much. It should be no more than twenty per cent.

The step is not unexpected. An official advisory group had already said before the summer that it would be better if the bonus were abolished. Whether justified or not, there has been criticism about the incentive in the academic world for some time, as it has led to a proliferation of PhDs. So the fixed price per PhD thesis is going to disappear. The great advantage, according to the government, is that university funding will become more stable.

This is also stated in the Wetenschapsvisie 2025 (Science Vision 2025), a hefty document in which the two members of the government responsible for education give their vision on Dutch science.

They praise the achievements of Dutch scientists, but they nevertheless want to adjust the course. There will be a National Science Agenda. Such an agenda, according to the cabinet, is in line with the international trend “that under the government’s direction spearheads are chosen where researchers, government, the business community and social organisations work together”.

This is a continuation of previous policies, in which key areas, spearheads or important sectors such as energy, water, chemistry and high tech were selected. Scientists work together with businesses in these fields, encouraged by the government.

So there will be more emphasis on the social relevance of research. The incentive will be in the form of research funder NWO, which divides a large part of the research budget among the universities and which will have to put more emphasis on the social benefits (‘valorisation’) of the research. “In addition to the plans for valorisation, NWO will also take into consideration the valorisation (in a broad social sense) that was previously achieved by researchers, in their allocation of research funds.”

The initial reactions in Maastricht to the minister’s plans have been moderately positive. But, says Executive President Martin Paul, “this is still only a vision, what it will all come down to is the agenda, the actual policy. The vision is rather ambitious: more social involvement, specialisation, excellent research, teaching careers, et cetera, and all that within the existing budget, aside from the 50 million euro that will be distributed in order to get European subsidies more easily. When the official advisory group was carrying out its investigation, I said several times within the VSNU that if you want more innovation then you have to invest more.”

He attaches little importance to decreasing the PhD bonuses (“we don’t do it to earn money, although we do invest in new research”), and the same applies to a greater emphasis on valorisation. Paul: “I am slightly allergic to that word, people often only think about money. It’s about the value of research for society, in a broad sense. In the end, we are working with taxpayers’ money. As far as I am concerned, that doesn’t mean that academic freedom will be less, but I do feel that a discussion is necessary, between the academic world, the business community and other social parties.”


HOP/ Wammes Bos






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