Humanities students are slower to get their PhDs

"Five years after the appointments, the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded at Humanities is lower than at the rest of the university." Jan Sleutels, the council’s chair, made that statement at the Faculty Council meeting.

Of the employed PhD students who began in 2011, 10 per cent of those at Humanities had been awarded their doctoral degree compared to 40 per cent at the university as a whole. The percentages vary per year: 2010’s class has a success rate of 29 per cent compared to 41 per cent.

Little is known about the reasons for this dropout rate. "Few PhD student say: ‘I’m stopping NOW’", Iris van Ooijen at Management Support explains when asked. "Many don’t ever finish their research and then don’t do an exit interview."

After several years, Humanities’ academics are catching up. Of those who started in 2006, 71 per cent of those at Humanities graduated compared to 75 per cent overall; for those who started in 2007, the figures are 71 per cent compared to 82 per cent and for 2008, a notable 84 compared to 77.

However, the Council thought the difference after five years was conspicuous. Sleutels immediately supplied a few theories, which include: "There’s a difference in the terms of quantity and quality regarding research work. Besides, the limits of Humanities’ research questions are not so clear-cut. It’s not impossible that the fourth-year standard just doesn’t suit Humanities."

Or another theory: "Perhaps we’re too strict. Perhaps the standards and ambitions at Humanities are too high." Dean Mark Rutgers stresses that they are already working on ways to combat the dropout rate. A list of measures has been added to the figures, such as training sessions and courses for PhD students

and their supervisors. Nonetheless, Sleutels reckons that one important aspect was missing: "Attention for burnout prevention." MVW

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