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Extend the ius promovendi to more researchers!

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At most universities in the Netherlands, including at Tilburg University, the right to function as a 'promotor' during PhD defenses is only given to those with full professor status. While assistant and associate professors often are de facto supervisors of PhD students, they cannot obtain full formal responsibility for PhD projects. A full professor is required for the promotor position, who then automatically gets a final say in the project. We believe this situation is undesirable and unfair.

While the Dutch system regarding ius promovendi may have been defensible several decades ago, that is no longer the case. PhD projects increasingly are part of larger programs for which funding needs to be obtained at the national (NWO) or European levels. Competition for such funding is very severe and only truly excellent proposals get rewarded. It is quite common for researchers who have less than full professor status to obtain funding in this way. They then become principal investigators of programs for which they bear sole responsibility. Sole responsibility towards the external funding agency, that is, because internally final responsibility for the PhD projects lies elsewhere, sometimes with a researcher not familiar with the subfield in question. This is an anomaly that should be addressed.

The system is also unfair in that it does not give credit where credit is due. In academia the status of researchers depends on the contributions they have made to their field. Publications are a prime vehicle of such contributions, but other activities also count and successful supervision of PhD students is one of them. It is important for supervisors to get their efforts recognised, but the Dutch practice of appointing promotores who may have done very little towards supervising a student obfuscates the real contributions of all involved.

The Dutch situation is in striking contrast with that in other countries with strong academic traditions. American assistant professors are not in need of professors of higher rank in order to be able to supervise students and prepare them for their defenses. Neither are British lecturers, nor French maîtres de conférences, nor German Juniorprofessoren. The special situation in the Netherlands should in itself give pause for thought and a look at the rules in force elsewhere may convince anyone that liberalisation of the Dutch system is certainly possible, without any loss of quality or lowering of academic standards.

Three years ago Arianna Betti, Peter-Paul Verbeek, and Ingrid Robeyns, three members of The Young Academy, a group of successful young researchers of KNAW, wrote a column (in Dutch) about the anomalies arising out of the Dutch ius promovendi system. In this column they gave nine arguments for change that have lost none of their force or actuality. Since then the University of Groningen has implemented a system which extends the ius promovendi to a new category of adjunct-professors.

We consider Groningen's move an excellent first step in the direction of liberalising the present situation. It has the practical advantage of a move that can be made within existing Dutch law. The move has made the University of Groningen particularly popular with young researchers. If more universities are to adopt Groningen's rules, further liberalisation will come within closer reach and a system of promotions more in line with those of other countries may be adopted in the Netherlands.

Tilburg can play a role in this. Tilburg University has always been a progressive environment, in which the need for internationalisation of academic institutions in the Netherlands has been recognised from a very early stage. Tilburg also has generally been very supportive of young and successful researchers. We therefore are hopeful that the university this time too will take on an active role. The university can exert its influence with VSNU and other players to keep this matter in focus and under discussion. But it can also take very concrete steps to improve the situation in Tilburg. We respectfully ask you to study the measures the University of Groningen has taken in order to arrive at a more just situation regarding the ius promovendi and to implement similar measures at Tilburg University.

 



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