The Dutch Ministry of Education wants to change the status of PhD candidates in the Netherlands from civil employees to students. This may not sound like much to those outside this system, but it is HUGE to us.
Our salaries are on par with a PhD candidate in the US, but it’s just that — a salary, not a stipend or scholarship. We tend to call ourselves PhD students because that’s the colloquial term, but technically we aren’t, and we like those technicalities that set us apart.
As civil employees we have full-time work status, a union, unemployment benefits, pension contributions, and other legal protections. We don’t take classes, don’t pay tuition, and at UvA the teaching load is ~15-20% of our contract (the rest is research). International PhDs also get the 30%-rule for taxation, thanks to which I can afford to actually go home and see my family. A big reason why I came from the US to do a PhD in the Netherlands is, in no small part, because PhD candidates are recognized civil employees, and those benefits were the tipping point for me when considering PhD positions at different institutes in different countries. The research at top Dutch universities is as good as in other top universities abroad, but our legal protections as junior-career scientists are distinct. As far as I know (in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe), in the Netherlands we have the best job protections and job security.
Cancelling this status (as an “experiment” or otherwise) would be a slap in the face to me and the many, many other international PhD candidates who move far away from our home countries to work in the Netherlands. It is absurd — please, please do not let them do this. To start, you can help by signing the petition to ask the Dutch Minister of Education to not do this, and the Dutch universities to not participate in this: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/promotiestudent/
There’s more explanation in the petition description, in Dutch and English (scroll down for English).