Measures for Chinese PhD students, after all

Measures for Chinese PhD students, after all

Survey to all 242 Chinese PhD students

18-01-2023 · News

MAASTRICHT. UM wants to accept fewer Chinese PhD students on condition that the Chinese government will continue to pay the full amount of grants. This would increase the income after tax for each PhD student by 150 euro per month. Contrary to what UM thought, Chinese PhD students in Maastricht can hardly make ends meet.

Initially, co-ordinator Harry Steinbusch, retired UM professor of Neuroscience, thought that the financial discomfort of Chinese PhD students in Limburg wasn’t so bad. After a talk with eight of them in December, he stated in Observant that these researchers in Maastricht were not on hard times and “could live a normal life on a grant of 1,350 euro,” among others, because rent prices in Limburg are lower than in the Randstad. 

Since then, Steinbusch made further inquiries on a wider scale: “Then we found out that they had less money than we thought, too little to survive on in the Netherlands. To get a proper idea of their financial situation, we sent a survey to all 242 PhD students.”

That is why Steinbusch proposed to the Chinese Scholarship Council (SCS) in Beijing to send 10 per cent fewer PhD students to Maastricht – 54 instead of 60 – while China should continue to pay for sixty. "That would mean that every PhD student has 150 euro per month more to spend. The CSC felt it was a constructive proposal, which has now been passed on to a higher policy level. We will wait and see."

Going to the pub

The fact that Chinese PhD students in the Randstad, but also in Maastricht, have to weigh every purchase, was also apparent from the interviews that Observant had with three PhD students. They cannot manage on 1,350 euro per month, and that applies to the majority of the PhD students. Many are dependent on their families for an additional contribution.

“In October 2020, when I started here, 1,350 euro per month was still doable,” says Ying Cong (20), working at research institute GROW. “But now, with the super high inflation, that is no longer possible. Many Dutch people receive compensation on top of their income, but that doesn’t apply to us, we are not actually on the payroll.”

Because of this, they are not eligible for such labour conditions as health insurance, holiday money, days off or accumulation of a pension, says a Chinese PhD student at the Faculty of Law, who would rather not be mentioned by name. 

“We also have to pay our own expenses for congresses and professional journals,” says Sichuan Li, PhD student at the School of Business and Economics. “I already pay six hundred euro on rent, and then there is hardly anything left for a social life, like a visit to the pub.”

Cong also spends more than six hundred euro for a single-family dwelling which she shares with another researcher. “I also have a cat, which costs money. I bought the cat for emotional support. I am very frustrated with our contract with UM. The difference between the salary and the labour conditions with the other PhD students feels extraordinarily unjust. My motivation has plummeted considerably.”

Identity problem

Why this dissatisfaction in Maastricht has not come to light sooner, clearly not in the talks that Steinbusch had either, is because complaining is not in keeping with Chinese culture, they say. 

Li: “We would rather not do that. Besides, I would not even know how to submit a complaint to UM. We have very little insight into how a university is set up. All those management layers spread across research and education are really confusing.”

Cong: “I feel like we are being abused at times, precisely because we don’t know exactly how things work. I have been here for more than two years now and I still have no idea.”

Li doesn’t understand why he can sign up for some research projects and not for others. “Sometimes, I am considered a fully-fledged employee and other times I am not. Like, employees can purchase a desk, chair or computer screen for at home, we can’t. It creates an identity problem.”

By teaching one day a week, the Chinese could earn a little extra, says Li. Steinbusch explored that idea and concluded that this was not feasible. "This is because every department decides this separately. Some will adopt this, other will not. So, this cannot be a structural solution."

How are things regarding the grant increase, as was announced during the Chinese Communist Party congress? Steinbusch: "This has been put on hold for the time being due to a changed financial situation in the country, as they say."