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Foto: Eduard Lampe

One in four PhD students do not make it to the finish line

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau,
29 juni 2022 - 11:18

A quarter of all PhD students employed by Dutch universities quit before the dissertation is completed, reports the Rathenau Institute. Especially in law many PhD students drop out.

About 40 percent of the PhD candidates in law never finish their dissertation. Some years there are more dropouts, other years less, but among PhD students in law there are twice as many as in economics, agriculture, engineering and natural sciences. There, only 20 percent drop out prematurely.

There can be various reasons for dropping out: for example, PhD students may opt for a job outside science and therefore fail to complete their dissertation

36,000 PhD candidates

There are over 36 thousand people working on a dissertation in the Netherlands, about half of whom are employed by universities or teaching hospitals. The rest are doing their PhD in their own time or with external funding. There are also students with a grant instead of a salary.


In the new fact sheet, the Rathenau Institute only looks at the available figures and has not investigated why so many PhD students drop out. There can be various reasons for this: for example, PhD students may opt for a job outside science and therefore fail to complete their dissertation. Also, the difference in PhD success between Dutch and foreign PhD students is not visible.


The number of Dutch PhD students employed by the universities has remained about the same over the years, while more and more foreign PhD students are joining. Most of these international PhD students come from outside Europe.

PhD students learn to do research independently. A PhD is the first step on the academic career ladder, although not all PhD students can (and want to) continue in science.

An appointment as a PhD student is usually for four years, but in general PhD students spend about five years on their dissertation. On average, they are 33 when they receive their doctoral degree.