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  • Expansion of right to award a PhD

    Photo: an old fashioned PhD committee (Wikimedia Commons, authour unknown)

    Photo: an old fashioned PhD committee (Wikimedia Commons, authour unknown)

    - Until recently the only academics with the power to bestow the title of PhD (dr. in Dutch) upon a candidate were full professors. This is now about to change due to a Dutch bill that allows a university’s committee on promotions to grant this right to anybody with a PhD title.

    In the new law, that was adopted during a debate on “Internationalisation of higher education and scientific research”, the so called right of promotion is adopted to international standards. In most other nations the title of PhD already grants the owner the right to award someone a PhD.

    The initial proposal put forward by the government was to liberal according to a number of the members of parliament, allowing the committee of promotions to award the right to anyone they deem fit. An amendement by MP's Roelof Bisschop (SGP) and Pieter Duisenberg (VVD) succesfully resticted this right to holders of a PhD title: “The most minimal requirement should be that the one awarding someone a PhD at least also holds that title.”

    Academic careers

    Although the expansion of the so called ius promovendi will be praised by many it isn’t likely to change the PhD candidate to supervisor ratio. President of the Dutch PhD Network (PNN) Rolf van Wegeberg responds to the news: “In practice the daily supervision of PhDs is often done by other members of staff than the full professor or PI. However, it is a good thing that there now will be a possibility to recognize this fact.”

    Rens Vliegenthart, president of the Young Academy, concurs that there will be little practical changes in supervision. He does see benefits in terms of the career opportunities for young and international researchers. “I think doing research in The Netherlands will become more appealing to international researchers. It will also open up new opportunities for young researchers to advance in their career.”

    Imbalanced growth

    Besides synchronising the Dutch system with other countries, one reason for the change of rules is the stunning growth in the number of Dutch PhD candidates. Over the past fifteen years the number of PhDs has doubled and the number of full professors has stagnated.

    At the same time the number of senior staff positions at Dutch universities has been declining steadily, troubling many researchers: “This new law shouldn’t be seen as a free for all to hire even more PhD candidates.” Van Wegberg is quick to add. The PNN has pressed the Association of universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) to stay vigilant on this issue. “Outsourcing the supervision of PhDs for financial reasons should be avoided at all time.” He adds, alluding to the financial incentives that are seen as perverse by some. 

    The relaxation of the regulations could also have implications for other aspects of the PhD process. “Now PhDs will be able to choose from a wider range of supervisors to award them their PhD. It would be a great benefit if this new law also sparks more attention to the actual act of supervising.” Vliegenthart adds. He thinks this new law also broadens the possibility of solving conflicts within a research project. 

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