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For doctoral students, a prestigious diploma and an often precarious status

Spend most of his time on his thesis, supposed to be completed in three years? Or lose him to finance his research with odd jobs? Alexandre, in the third year of a doctorate in letters and human sciences in a Parisian university, turned the problem around before finding a middle way, which he describes as “shameful”. This 30-year-old, who has worked for a long time alongside his studies, has resolved to ” cheat “ : he ignores his student status to be able to benefit from the RSA, free health coverage, in addition to personalized housing assistance and aid from the Paris City Hall.

The college itself tinkers around the edges of the legality to help it stay afloat. “I was granted some money for two fictitious research trips”, he assures. The approximately €800 in income that he manages to amass each month are “swallowed up by rent and bills”. The problem, he sums up, is the food. “As I don’t have a scholarship, I can’t claim €1 meals in university restaurants. Fortunately, the waitresses of a restaurant U, near my home, discreetly give me leftovers to take away. »

One in four doctoral students receive no funding

Alexandre’s case is by no means isolated, testifies the Linkee association, which fights against food insecurity among students. “At each distributionwe come across doctoral students”, slips a manager. And the study that Fage, the main student union, published on Tuesday, September 20, makes it possible to objectify this phenomenon.

“One in four doctoral students – and up to one in two in the humanities and social sciences – receives no funding from the first year”, notes Fanny Sarkissian, vice-president of this organization. “In addition, for those who benefit from them, doctoral contracts (€1,769 gross monthly, editor’s note) stop after three years, she insists. Even though the survey, conducted among approximately 2,000 doctoral students, shows that one in two respondents (47%) do not think they will be able to defend their thesis at the end of three years.

Research costs not always taken into account

Other lessons: the expenses inherent in the research work are not always covered by the university or the organization within which the thesis is being prepared: this is the case for only 69% of those concerned for the costs of conferences , 67% for the computer, and 46% when it is necessary to pay to be published in a scientific journal.

At this “frightening precariousness”, as described by Fanny Sarkissian, is sometimes added a lack of supervision (up to 20 doctoral students per thesis director), even an unhealthy climate (24% of respondents say they have already been victims, within the framework of the doctorate, of moral harassment, gender-based or sexual violence or discrimination). What explain a loss of attractiveness of this diploma (75,000 registered, or 10,000 less than ten years ago).

Government announcements to “upgrade” the doctorate

It must also be said that in France, where the Grandes Ecoles often overshadow the universities, the doctorate (bac + 8) is not highly valued on the job market: it even offers, on average, prospects for integration lower than the master (bac + 5).

“Doctoral students are no more financially precarious today than yesterday”comments for her part Anne Fraïsse, president of the University of Montpellier 3. “But with the extension of project funding, which forces us to hire contract workers for a few years and not permanent staff, they rightly have the impression that this precariousness will continue at the start of their career if they choose to become teacher-researchers. »

Aware of these difficulties, the Minister for Higher Education Sylvie Retailleau announced, in mid-September, measures intended to “revalue” the doctorate: recognition of this diploma in collective agreements, 20% increase in the number of doctoral contracts, 20% increase in remuneration for new contracts, 50% increase, by 2027, in the number of industrial agreements training through research, which also make it possible to finance theses.


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