4. Legal Status and Working Conditions

Please note: The information in this chapter is only to a certain extent applicable to PhD’s working in the UMCU, the University Medical Center Utrecht. Due to specific agreements, this may also be the case for PhDs from abroad. Also, the information presented here is based on documents of which the contents may vary over time. Make sure to look into the most recent version of these documents to obtain accurate information. You can find the links to those documents in the text below.

All Faculties of Utrecht University are equipped with a Personnel Department (usually referred to as P&O or HR Department). The Personnel Department exists for the benefit of the employees, the management, and the departments of the Faculties. The Personnel Department therefore has a wide variety of tasks: it manages appointments, discharges, job modifications, individual options schemes, promotions, gratifications, the introduction of new personnel, etc. In addition, the department gives advice on organisational issues, labour law and occupational health and safety, and provides managerial information on these issues.

The primary contact point for questions about your employment is the commercial director or the operational manager of your department. Many questions have already been answered on the websites of the faculty and of the university as well. On the UU website you can find a complete overview of all employment conditions (with appropriate explanations).

For the purpose of this text, a PhD Candidate is defined simply as a person who is pursuing a doctoral degree at Utrecht University by performing research. This person typically has a supervisor (‘promotor’, a person who is or was employed by Utrecht University) and shall defend his or her thesis in due time before an Assessment Committee. No other assumption is made about the legal relationship between the PhD candidate and Utrecht University. Prout represents all such PhD candidates.

Legal Status

Rules applicable to all PhD candidates

As will be shown below, there are many types of PhD candidates. The specific legal status of each type depends greatly on the legal relation between the university and the PhD candidate. There are, however, also some basic rules that apply to all PhD candidates, regardless of the distinctions made in the following sections. These rules are described in the Doctoral Degree Regulations Utrecht University.

Different types of PhD candidates

As described above, the legal status of a PhD candidate depends greatly on his or her relation to the university where the research is conducted. The first and most important distinction that can be made is between PhD candidates who are employed by the university and those who are not. PhD candidates with a labour contract typically have a stronger legal position in their relation with the university than those without one. Although one can distinguish several different types of PhD candidates who are not employed by the university, it is beyond the scope of this text to give detailed information about the legal status of every subtype. PhD candidates who belong to these categories can find the relevant information in the agreements they or their employer signed with the UU, and are advised to approach the commercial director or the operational manager of your HR department.

There is a special group of PhD candidates which deserves some extra attention. This is the group of PhD candidates that receive a scholarship to perform their research (commonly called ‘bursary students’). According to Dutch case law, Dutch universities are not allowed to grant such scholarships to Dutch citizens. The courts have ruled that if they do grant a Dutch PhD candidate such a scholarship, this implies that there actually exists a legal relationship of labour between the PhD candidate and the university and that they are thus effectively employees of the university. Because of the free market regulations within the EU, the same rule should apply to PhD candidates from other EU countries. This basically means that EU PhD candidates, who receive a scholarship from a Dutch university, have the same legal status as the other PhD candidates who are actually employed by the university. This status is described below in more detail. For these reasons, only PhD candidates from outside the EU can work at a Dutch university with a scholarship.

Different types of employed PhD candidates

Also within the category of employed PhD candidates, not everyone has the same rights and obligations; labour contracts can vary and PhD candidates can be employed for different positions, different amounts of time and even different wages. The most common position is that of the AiO (‘Assistent in Opleiding’). Next to that, also OiO (‘Onderzoeker in Opleiding’) and ZonMW) and junior lecturer positions are common.

With each type of position come different specific rights and obligations. Most faculties (or sometimes departments) have documented these rights and obligations. For instance at the LEG faculty there exists a so called Quality Plan which stipulates that no more than 10% of the PhD candidate’s working hours may be devoted to teaching on a yearly basis (see also Chapter 2). These rules differ among departments and faculties. Moreover, it is not always clear if these rules apply for all employed PhD candidates of the department/faculty, or only for specific positions, such as AiOs.

In addition to rules contained in specific department or faculty regulations and individual labour contracts, rights and obligations originate on a yearly basis as a result of appraisal interviews (also called ‘Beoordelings- en ontwikkelingsgesprek’ or formerly ‘Resultaats- en ontwikkelingsgesprek’, often abbreviated to R&O and B&O respectively). It has been agreed within the UU (and included in the Collective Labour Agreement ‘Nederlandse Universiteiten’) that managers and employees will conduct individual appraisal interviews at least once a year. The procedure of these interviews is often also described in the department/faculty regulations mentioned above. The interviews are intended to exchange views concerning the obtained results in the past year and to conclude agreements concerning duties and personal development for the coming year. For instance, an agreement with the PhD candidate can be made to spend a certain amount of money on courses, books, a new computer monitor, etc. Another example would be the objective that the PhD candidate writes a specific publication within a certain time frame.

Employed PhD candidates are thus advised to look into their own labour contract, their department’s and/or faculty’s regulations and the transcripts of their appraisal interviews to determine their own legal status. Such information can usually be obtained through the commercial director or the operational manager of your department.

General rights and obligations for all employed PhD candidates

Although it is clear from the above that individual PhD candidate can have different specific rights and obligations, there are also some general rules that apply to all employed PhD candidates. These are the rules set forth in the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities (hereinafter referred to as CLA) and the applicable Regulations of the UU. PhD candidates working at the UMCU have a different CLA (the Collective Labour Agreement Academic Hospitals), so explanations made below might not always apply to those candidates (see [20] for this specific agreement).

Rights and obligations of the CLA

The CLA is determined by the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) and several employee organisations, and is available at the website of the VSNU in Dutch and English. PhD candidates are called ‘Doctoral candidates’ in the CLA. Article 1.1 (aa) defines a Doctoral candidate as “staff in the employment of the university whose job is classified in the doctoral candidate job profile in the Education and Research job family of the job classification system”. Their rights and obligations as stated in the CLA are described below.

A PhD candidate (in this respect, the legal position of ‘OIOs’, which are subsidised by the NWO, is the same as that of ‘AIOs’) typically has a double position, because he/she both studies and works. A PhD candidate is employed (see Article 2.3) for a fixed period of time. The employment contract is first signed for the duration of several months, the exact time of the temporary employment can be different between contracts and the faculty the PhD candidate is employed. After a year, an assessment (the so-called “Go/No-go” procedure) is made whether this contract will be extended or renewed to cover the total duration of the course of the dissertation (usually four years).

On his/her request, a PhD candidate can work part time, but not less than 0.8 FTE. This request should be motivated and approved by the supervisors. The total period of employment of a part time PhD candidate is usually longer than that of a full time PhD candidate, though it may not exceed five years.

Holiday Pay

The PhD candidate is entitled to a holiday pay. It amounts to 8% of his payment and is paid out in May (see article 3.12 paragraph 1 CLA). This percentage can change due to changes to the CLA. The most accurate percentage can be checked in the current CLA.

End-of-Year Bonus

The PhD candidate is entitled to an end-of-year bonus calculated as a percentage of the salary received during the calendar year. The end-of-year bonus is paid in December. It is equivalent to 8.3% of the salary received during the calendar year, and amounts to a 13th month. This percentage can change due to changes to the CLA. The most accurate percentage can be checked in the current CLA.

Compensation for Overtime Work

The PhD candidate is not entitled to a compensation or extra allowance for overtime work. This is also described in the current CLA..

Rights and obligations of the UU Regulations

In addition to the CLA, the ‘UU Regulations’ offer some extra rights and obligations. The Regulations for Doctoral Candidates offers, amongst others, some rules on the extension of the labour contract. For example, Article 1 states that continued work after the expiration date with tacit approval, positions at the University or Faculty Councils or the University Labour Representation Board, and taking up of maternity or parental leave are possible reasons for extension of the contract.

Multiple-Choice Model or CAO à la Carte

On the basis of the ‘Regulation Working Conditions Multiple-Choice Model’, and within certain boundaries, PhD candidates can choose the terms of employment that best suit their needs. Personal wishes and circumstances contribute to a better determination of the terms of employment. This can be done by exchanging components of the terms of employment.

Under certain conditions, it is also possible to obtain a fiscal benefit. In the Multiple-Choice Model, the desired component is called a ‘target’; what a PhD candidate wishes to exchange for that purpose is called a ‘source’. It is at the discretion of the each Faculty to have a policy with regard to those fringe benefits. An application form and more information on the Working Conditions Multiple-Choice Model can be found on the UU intranet and one may also contact the faculty’s Personnel Department.


The UU agreed on a collective agreement with several large private insurance companies, covering inter alia health and disability. Because of this agreement, employees and their family members can receive a discount on health care insurance, dental care insurance, disability insurance or other insurances offered by OHRA. Of course, employees are not obliged to enter into such insurance deals. There are also other ‘open’ collectives that give candidates even more discount on these insurances, for instance Kruidvat or Metro, you can find more information on the internet.

Travelling Expenses

Employees are entitled to receive reimbursement for the expenses of travelling between home and work, as noted in the CLA Article 3.21, Paragraph 1. All employees receive reimbursement of 6 eurocents per kilometre, up to a commuting distance not exceeding 25 kilometres per single journey. An agreement on supplementary expense allowances could also be made within the options foreseen under the employment conditions, even in the absence of the full right to standard reimbursement.

Salary-Saving Scheme

The UU provides a salary-saving scheme for all its employees. The salary-saving scheme aims to stimulate the willingness to save money and to maintain the sustainable belongings of employees. Therefore, the employer will deduct a certain salary-saving amount from the participant’s gross salary, and deposit this on a savings account.

What to do in case of a conflict

If problems occur in your working environment, for example in the relationship with your supervisor or colleagues, you can consult an independent confidential counsellor to talk about your problems. The confidential counsellor is independent and will only take action in agreement with you. In most faculties, a person at the P&O department is appointed to deal with these confidential matters, in other faculties there might be a confidential counsellor appointed that deals especially with PhD candidates. When the problem cannot be solved at the faculty level, the University confidential counsellor (Dutch) can be consulted. The confidential counsellor of the UU is currently Paul Herfs.

Other useful information

  • Pension insurance for employees of the UU is with the ABP, such as old-age pension, reversionary pension and ABP pension for disabled.
  • The UU has a collective agreement with several private health insurance companies, such as OHRA. (Number collective agreement: 11, entering code website OHRA: C9ZT78.)
  • Loyalis is a business section of ABP. Employees may enter into a life-course scheme, and other supplementary provisions concerning their pension.