Steinbusch is the national contact person for the China Scholarship Council, which issues the grants. “Plans for the coming years state that grants will be raised from September 2023. For those who come to the Netherlands, this means that they will receive 1,500 euro, or maybe even 1,650.”
At the moment, Chinese PhD students receive 1,350 euro per month, and that is not exactly a fortune, they stated in Amsterdam university newspaper Folia, as well as in an article by Follow the Money. In comparison: Dutch PhD students receive 1,760 euro as a grant.
In a conversation that Harry Steinbusch, emeritus UM professor of Neuroscience, had with a Chinese PhD student from Maastricht this week, it appeared that they are not in difficulty. “They can live a normal life on 1,350 euro, they say. That is because they don’t pay € 800 per month rent, like in the Randstad, but about € 500. Most of them live in rooms from UM Housing.”
The UM is one of the few universities that compensates PhD students. In the first year, the university pays the rent up to 400 euro per month, which allows them to set aside some money, says Steinbusch. “During the interview, it appeared that the lack of child care was a greater problem for some of them. We are now looking into this to see if we can come up with a solution. PhD students with children do not, by the way, live in rooms from UM Housing but in a house. They are not eligible for free housing.”
Extra amount of money
Maastricht, where 50 to 70 Chinese PhD students start every year, did not choose to supplement the grant with an amount of money, as did the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, he said, because the Executive Board feels that in that case all foreign PhD students should be eligible for this.
“Because let me tell you, Indonesian and Indian PhD students have to live on 750 euro. But raising all grants is too expensive, partly because of the tax rules. If you want to give students an additional 300 euro, then that is a gross amount of 600 euro for the university.”
Another solution would be to allow young researchers to teach for one day a week. “At the moment, they are not qualified to do so, but if you adapt this, they could earn some extra money as a lecturer.”
In addition to the horrible financial situation there is another tricky matter. Chinese PhD students must endorse the communist party line in order to receive a grant. Employees at the Erasmus University exposed this fact before the summer.
Steinbusch: “That is a bad thing. Of the Maastricht PhD students not everyone had to complete and sign such a form. I cautiously approached them and came up with a rough estimate of half of all those concerned. I don’t know why some are asked to do so and others don’t, but it doesn’t seem to be a general Chinese policy. I have now been in contact with the director of the China Scholarship Council, but as yet have had no reaction.”
Steinbusch emphasises that it is the UM that chooses which students it admits. “They are not assigned to us.”
The young doctors who have returned to China – as has recently been agreed – will receive Maastricht trainee students. Steinbusch: “Forty master’s students, from various faculties, can complete up to 12 months of training. They will receive a grant of 400 euro and free housing from the China Scholarship Council. It is an extra option for Maastricht students to do research abroad. There are excellent laboratories in China. When the first trainees will leave, depends on the course of the Covid pandemic.”