PhD students

After the Bologna process (which established European standards for higher education) PhD programmes were expressly given the status of ‘third stage’ programmes. In addition to employed PhD students and external PhD students, more varieties of PhD programmes have emerged. This is partly due to increasing internationalisation, and includes such forms as scholarships and joint PhDs. The VSNU identifies four types (dutch only) of PhD students.
Universities do not only see the third stage as the start of an academic career; PhD programmes also devote attention to skills that have applicability outside academia. An international study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that PhD students in the Netherlands work outside universities on a regular basis, and that their job prospects are good (see OECD_career or doctorate-holders-arbeidsmarkt-2013). The teaching component for PhD students at graduate schools is fortified by a provision for experimentation. Legal provisions for PhD students have also meant that the third stage is covered by Dutch legislation, lending the PhD system greater international recognition.
When compared to other countries, the Netherlands does not have a high percentage of PhD graduates in the working population. However, the figure below shows that the number of doctorate conferrals has doubled since 2000. This development improves our position slightly (Education at a Glance, 2013).
In 2012, the number of PhD students starting to work at Dutch universities dropped for the first time in decades. In the years after the number of new PhD students stabilized, but the number of doctorate conferrals kept increasing.
A large number of PhD students in the Netherlands are not employed by universities, such as external PhD students. There are therefore no clear figures available on the total number of PhD students.
Success rates show that 75% of PhD students employed by their university ultimately graduate successfully. This figure is distorted by all kinds of changes to the appointment of PhD students.

The number of months required to successfully complete a PhD gives a more accurate picture of the success of PhD students. On average, PhD students need 60 months (or five years) to complete their doctorate. To increase success rates, universities have taken measures to improve supervision and teaching for PhD students. The graduate schools are expected to supply greater momentum to this process. One striking observation is that 45% of employed PhD students are not of Dutch nationality. 

Only 6.6 of every 1000 economically active Dutch residents have a PhD. This figure is lower than the EU-15 average (7.5 PhD graduates per 1000 residents) and the Scandinavian reference group (12.0). This gap is only getting bigger, highlighting the major need for the Dutch PhD system to adapt to international developments. Most European countries maintain a mixed system that includes both PhD students with student status and those with employee status. Adapting the Dutch system accordingly will also increase student mobility. Dutch universities are also looking for more ways to make it possible to obtain a doctorate. For example, adding the scholarship student category of PhD students will allow universities to accept more PhD students, strengthening the Dutch knowledge society.  

Last updated on 11-02-2020