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New union seeks to improve working conditions for PhD students

Common front — Burdened by stress, lack of rights and temporary contracts, PhD students at the University of Copenhagen are joining together to work to improve their lot

After previous reports in University Post about stress, tenuous terms of employment and a wide range of other problem, PhD students at the University of Copenhagen say they will band together to establish a union to improve their situation.

The union will hold its founding meeting on March 8 and give the university its first association for temporary PhD students.

Founding general meeting

March 8, 3:00-5:30pm; Faculty of Social Sciences, room 4.2.26 (building 4, second floor), Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 Copenhagen K

For more information, please contact: Jonas Krog Lind at jkl@ifs.ku.dk or on 35 33 17 04

“The union will have two objectives: help us look after ourselves through things like stress-reduction programmes, and organise social and academic functions that all PhD students, regardless of what they are studying, can take part in. We are also interested in defining the role that PhD students will play going forward. Firms are increasingly offering their own PhD programmes. But, that’s not without its problems. Is it fair to call those sorts of programmes research-oriented?” said political-science PhD student Jonas Krog Lind, one the founders of the new association.

More influence

The specific details of what the union will do will be decided by its members, according to Lind.

“We want to improve occupational-health conditions for PhD students at the university. And we want to work out how we can gain more influence. As it is now, PhD students stand as faculty during elections to the board. That makes it hard to get a seat,” he said.

Uni precariats, unite!

During the past decade, the number of graduate students working for the university without contracts has risen considerably: from about 900 PhD students, post-docs and assistant professors in 2009, to 3,000 by 2013, a three-fold rise in just four years.

The University of Copenhagen is just the latest Danish university where PhD students are seeking to form a union. This past autumn, Dansk Magisterforening, a union that primarily represents graduates holding degrees in the natural sciences and humanities, and PAND said they would fund the movement to the tune of 300,000 kroner over the next three years.

The union’s first event was held February 20. With support from PAND, it will be putting on what it calls a Talk Like TED workshop that will seek to advise PhD students how they can make sure the public is aware of their work.

The workshop is fully booked, and Lind hopes that the interest will carry over to the founding meeting on March 8 in the Faculty of Social Sciences.

“We want to create a spirt of common interest amongst PhD students. Our hope is that the new union will be a step in the right direction towards an academic atmosphere at the university that is more inclusive,” Lind said.

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