The PhD system works: how future-proof is the Dutch PhD system?

24 March 2016

The foresight report Promoveren werkt (The PhD system works) was published today. The report, which considers how future-proof the Dutch PhD system is, was presented to Dutch Education Minister Jet Bussemaker by the president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the chairman of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the chairman of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

KNAWVerkenningPromoverenWerkt Carolyn Ridsdale

The Academy concludes that the Dutch PhD system does in fact work, that it is future-proof, and that it produces highly qualified, independent-minded PhDs. One point for improvement is that PhD candidates should be better prepared to pursue a career outside academia.


The Academy concludes that the quality of the Dutch academic PhD system is excellent and its quality assurance system sound. Experience shows that PhDs have absolutely no trouble building a career either in academia or beyond. The excellent quality of Dutch PhDs is partly owing to the length of the PhD track, which is generally four years. A three-year track would also be possible if the PhD candidate completes a solid two-year research Master’s programme beforehand. Shortening the PhD track further would detract from its quality.

The Academy also concludes that different employment status models could co-exist side-by-side, as in other countries. Financial resources permitting, however, the Academy still prefers PhD candidates to be given employment contracts.


The Dutch PhD system is generally regarded as a solid system that produces skilled PhDs. It is, however, subject to various influences at the moment, including the trend towards shorter PhD tracks, the wish – both in political circles and in society – to match the supply of PhDs more closely to demand, and the Dutch Government’s wish to extend the right to award PhDs (ius promovendi) beyond full professors. It is for these reasons that the Academy has studied how future-proof the Dutch PhD system is.


The Academy advises the Minister of Education to order a study of the job prospects for PhDs, allowing for the differences between academic fields and societal sectors. One area that also merits further study is the demand by potential employers for other types of PhD degrees or PhD tracks than those currently available.

The universities are advised to maintain the nominal length of the PhD track at four years and to monitor cases where this length is exceeded. In the event of a three-year PhD track, the university must review the quality of the PhD programme at regular intervals.

The universities should make a point of acquainting PhD candidates with the job market, preferably in cooperation with potential employers.

Finally, the Academy advises the universities to pay extra attention to quality control when a PhD dissertation consists of a collection of multi-author publications. In such cases, the PhD candidate’s contribution should be made explicit. Foreign co-authors should not be involved in reviewing the dissertation.

Order or download