Unanimous social agreement on the new UGent policy and regulations for PhD scholarships

On Thursday December 17th 2020 the three trade unions have unanimously agreed to the new UGent policy and regulations for PhD scholarships that will apply from the start of the academic year 2021-2022 – after final approval by the board of governors.
The new regulations that have been negotiated can be found online through this link.

It was ACOD UGent who took the lead in this matter. After all we championing the improvement of the situation of our PhD scholarship holders for years now. Rector Rik Van de Walle and the university management have kept their promise. This way the social partners provide a considerable improvement of the conditions of PhD scholarship holders.

The most important realization is that people who start their PhD research as scholarship holder will be guaranteed a full scholarship period of four years, of course on condition that the research is evaluated positively each year.

For some limited exceptions the regulations provide the possibility for a shorter scholarship period, e.g. to bridge the gap towards an FWO scholarship that has been applied for. Such a shorter scholarship contract will remain limited to only those situations for which the exception was explicitly intended.

For FWO scholarship holders and individual BOF scholarship holders the duration of the predoctoral scholarship was already clearly regulated, but for UGent PhD scholarship holders on research projects of their supervisor there was no guarantee whatsoever on the duration of their scholarship. There are quite a few professors who were already giving their scholarship holders a contract of two years, the maximum under today’s regulations, but in a number of cases the scholarship contracts to this day were limited to a period of one year at a time. Sometimes even multiple consecutive contracts of only a few months at a time were granted. In these circumstances the scholarship holders remained in perpetual uncertainty as to whether or not their scholarship would be renewed or not, regardless of the evaluation of the content and progress of their doctoral research.
With this assurance on the normal duration of the period of research it is also more clearly established that a predoctoral scholarship can only be terminated prematurely when the doctral research is not conducted properly. So now there is no more risk for a non-renewal caused by e.g. a simple difference of opinion with the supervisor.

The academic evaluation of progress made in the doctoral research remains of course subject to the faculty and university regulations and appeal procedures designed for this. So a negative evaluation of the doctoral research (and the termination of the scholarship) are never an individual decision by the supervisor. The PhD researcher always has the right to defend oneself (with assistance if so desired) in front of an independent authority that will take the final decision. To this day this guarantee sometimes remained without effect as the budget holder could decide not to renew a scholarship contract that was ending. However this now belongs to the past.

Of course a large majority of professors already gave a lot of attention to the guidance of their PhD students. Still, a number of other rights of scholarship holders are now also more clearly regulated, a.o. the right to take a social leave (parental leave, leave to take care of sick family members, …), the possibility for the scholarship holder to appeal to the faculty ombudsperson for PhD students if one is to perform other activities not related to the PhD project (except for max. 4u/week of tutoring of exercises, practicals or other activities that contribute to the formation as PhD student), and the possibility to appeal to the Doctoral School Council should the supervisor refuse to allow the scholarship holder to follow certain trainings (also if these trainings are not part of the formal PhD training).

Further improvement of the scholarship status is certainly possible and needed. E.g. scholarship holders should receive the same social entitlements as other predoctoral researchers with an employment contract or an appointment as academic assistant (equal benefits in case of sick leave, unemployment, equal pension rights, …). For this however the Flemish and federal government have to change their regulations. Here also ACOD is taking the lead to conduct this discussion – together with the other trade unions – with the ministers that are involved and to achieve a fully equal status for PhD scholarship holders. We will keep you informed on the follow up of the topic.

With this new scholarship policy at UGent again an important step forward has been made in the HR-policy of our university. After the administrative and technical staff, the scientific staff and the professors now finally also the PhD scholarship holders have a clear perspective.

With this we have also shown again why a trade union is needed, and that as a trade union we are also defending your rights as PhD scholarship holder!

If you join (or are already member of) our trade union you can also count on us for individual support.

Joining our trade union ACOD UGent can be done online on thiis page

Do you have questions concerning the new regulations, or in general concerning your situation as PhD scholarship holder? You can always contact us by e-mail to ACOD@UGent.be