Most PhD students finish in five years

Wageningen doctoral researchers take about five years to get their PhDs. This is bang-on average compared with other universities, show new figures from the universities association VSNU.
Linda van der Nat,Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau

The PhD research duration of around five years has been stable in Wageningen for ten years or so. © Joris Schaap

The figures show that five years is the average time it takes PhD students to get their doctorates in the Netherlands. Only a small proportion (14 per cent) reach the finishing line within four years. But there is considerable variation among the universities. PhD students at Utrecht graduate six month faster than average, while those at VU Amsterdam and the Erasmus University in Rotterdam tend to need extra time.

PhD students at Wageningen take on average a little over five years on their doctoral research, the VSNU figures show. But that figure is deceptive, says WUR researcher Gab van Winkel: ‘The average is not a good yardstick because there is a ‘tail’ of a few people who take a long time, who have a big impact on the average.’

©HOP. Source: VSNU. The average time spent to get a PhD at Dutch universities, in months. Figures from the UvA for 2017 are missing.

Promotieduur in maanden. UvA: geen gegevens over 2017 ©HOP. Bron: VSNU.

So Van Winkel works with the median. For salaried doctoral researchers, this is 4.8 years, for those on a grant, 4.9 years, and for sandwich PhD students, 5.2 years. ‘That’s because sandwich PhD students often do other work in their home countries, such as teaching, alongside their research.’ The time taken over a PhD has remained stable for about 10 years, says Van Winkel: ‘Of course we aim to shorten the time even more, to make publication in four years the norm.

Drop outs

Very few Wageningen PhD students drop out. In 2017, 67 dropped out, while roughly 80 per cent of the students who started in 2010 finished their theses within seven years. The University of Maastricht scores highest on this point: nine out of ten of its PhD students finish within seven years. At VU University on the other hand, about 40 per cent are still working on their thesis after seven years.

© HOP. Bron: VSNU. Number of promovendi within 7 years, 2010. Exclusive the UvA

Other news from the VSNU is that the number of PhDs at Dutch universities has gone down for the first time in years. In 2017, precisely 4731 people received doctorates, 200 fewer than the previous year.

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