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Terms of employment for PhD candidates

Published: Mar. 16 2021

Employers must follow a special set of rules when hiring a PhD candidate.

The general rule in Norwegian working life is permanent employment. PhD employment is one of the exceptions to this rule. The Act relating to universities and university colleges and the related regulations define PhD employment as an appointment for a fixed term of years.

PhD candidates who work in the government sector are also subject to the State Employees Act (Statsansattloven). Own rules apply for candidates who are not working for a state company. Although PhD candidates are not included in the main rule of permanent employment, they are full-time employees. They must have a written employment contract and be treated as normal employees.

The most common time period is four years full time employment. Mandatory work is 25 per cent. The regulation state that the period of employment shall include three years of focus on your PhD program. This means that the fixed time period must last a minimum of three years. The use of three-year positions is increasing. Already completed PhD programs can be deducted.

It is possible to agree on a part time position, with an extension of the time period, so that the full PhD program in total corresponds to three years full-time. The percentage of employment cannot be lower than 50.

PhDs outside the government sector

For private colleges that are subject to The Act relating to universities and university colleges, the regulations on employment for PhD candidates also apply. This is also the case for state research institutes.

For PhDs outside the university and college sector, the Working Environment Act applies. According to the law private companies are not allowed temporary employment of PhD candidates. Private companies must make a special agreement with the unions in order to be able to hire PhDs legally. Tekna has agreements with Abelia (NHO) and Spekter.

Mandatory work

Work tasks in addition to the PhD program is often called mandatory work. If the fixed time-period is three year, the candidate shall not have any mandatory work. The employment contract should state how much time should be spent on mandatory work, and what the work will consist of.

About 40 per cent of those who have not agreed to mandatory work as part of the job description still perform mandatory work. The work should be relevant to your education. The most common types of mandatory work are teaching, supervision and assessment/examination work. It is the employer’s responsibility that the rules of mandatory work are applied.

PhDs shall not be required to work with other things than the PhD program and the mandatory work. It may be tempting to accept other tasks, either because it is interesting or because it provides an extra income. It is important to be aware that delays in your program can be expensive.

The general rule is that PhDs who continue to work on the dissertation after the fixed time period has ended, are not entitled to unemployment benefits from NAV, since they are not considered as job seekers. If you take on extra work beyond the agreed mandatory work, it may therefore be a good idea to agree to extend the PhD time period.

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