A survey published by Fage this Tuesday, September 20, highlights the difficult working conditions of doctoral students.
The number of doctoral students in France is decreasing. Their population has increased from 81,000 (2009-2010) to 70,000 for the 2020-2021 school year. This is a 13% decrease. Lack of attraction and funding, mobility problems, uncertainty… Many factors that can explain the lack of love for research among students, although their minister, Sylvie Retalleau, aims to place research at the heart of teaching.
“Unfortunately, we were expecting these resultsFanny Sargsyan, vice president of the Federation of General Student Associations (Fage), responsible for the 3rd term and research, laments. There is a discrepancy between the stated research excellence and the reality in some universities. To shed light on this phenomenon, the first student union is publishing a quantitative survey this Tuesday, September 20. The survey, conducted from May to August 2022, collects responses from nearly 2,000 doctoral students from all doctoral schools in France.
Lack of funding is “the biggest concern”
“The Greatest Urgent”, according to the survey, is the funding of the research. About 74% of doctoral students receive funding for their dissertation. And according to Fage, 28% struggled to get it. It is pointed out that competition between candidates is partly responsible. This lack of funding affects the lives and research of doctoral students. According to the study, 26% have funding that does not allow them to meet their needs, and more than one in five PhD students are working alongside their dissertation. Finally, if €41.41 is paid for one hour of teaching, the 2009 national hourly equivalence reference system “One hour of tutorial corresponds to 4.2 hours of actual work”. This equates to paying PhD students €9.80 an hour, the study explains. The total is less than the hourly minimum wage (€11.07).
“I have never done field research because of the high cost of travel”Doctoral student
The infrequent renewal of contracts is also criticized. In 2018, four out of ten dissertations were defended in three years. This deprives PhD students of the resources to continue their work and support themselves. Because conducting research creates various costs: 67% of doctoral students are provided with a computer, and 62% cover travel expenses. “I have never done field research because of the high cost of travel”, assures the student. This problem has implications for international mobility: only 23% of doctoral students have done or plan to do so. Conversely, if France has 40% foreign doctoral students every year, three out of ten do not have a residence permit.
“Unacceptable” living conditions
Supervision of doctoral students is another weak point. “The scientific supervisor of dissertation students supervises 3-4 doctoral students on average. This number can vary between 1 and 20”, explains the query. And to require a maximum of 5 doctoral supervision degrees per teacher-researcher.
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In addition to working conditions, La Fage criticizes living conditions “unacceptable” : 24% of doctoral students say they have been victims of moral or sexual harassment or discrimination. Lea*, who is in the fourth year of her dissertation at the Paul-Valery University in Montpellier, is harassed by a researcher for whom she is writing a scientific paper. “He constantly humiliated me, gave me only ungrateful tasks, called me until late hours. I lost my confidence.” he explains. After returning from sick leave, Lea was removed as the second author of the article. “it pissed me off”The man who plans to stop his university research after finishing his dissertation is thundering.
More than one in two doctoral students plan to go abroad
Across all disciplines, 85% of doctoral students were employed within a year of graduation in 2014. For all these reasons, more than half consider applying abroad. “This is surprising. Some go for salary and better hiring rate, others tell themselves it’s a mandatory pass on their CV before returning to France. This should alert us to research conditions in France.”, details about Fage’s vice president. Therefore, the risk is brain drain. “The difficulty is not to end up with a two-level university. On the one hand, it finances those who can respond to tender calls and doctoral students. On the other hand, doctoral schools, which are in a deplorable situation”warns Fanny Sargsyan.
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There is a decrease in the number of doctoral students “A threat to the sustainability of the academic world and research”, informs the investigation. The unattractiveness of doctoral studies, which is the highest level of education in Europe, and the lack of information about it is noteworthy. One in five doctoral students report that they did not benefit from any guidance system prior to enrollment. “Access to offers and information is very complex, not to mention completely opaque”, one student grumbles. To reverse the trend, Fage requires the creation of a license-to-research initiative.
In turn, the Ministry of Higher Education is also planning “encouraging laboratory experiments” and “Increasing awareness of research professions” when entering university. The research programming law (LPR) voted in 2020 envisages an increase in loans by 25 billion euros. But the budget efforts, which have been criticized by the higher education and research community, have not yet had the expected effect.
*Name has been changed.