Seven cents per kilometre is ‘insufficient’: ‘NS gets a fifth of my wages’
The university’s travel allowance is too low, according to unions and staff participation bodies. This particularly affects PhD candidates, and it weakens Leiden’s competitive position.
Vincent Bongers
Monday 28 November 2022

‘It’s not okay’, says PhD candidate Tessa Gote who started her chemistry PhD track at Leiden University this academic year. ‘The travel allowance is seven cents per kilometre; that is wholly insufficient in and of itself. However, there is also a ceiling amount of 45 euros per month, which is an even bigger problem. I find this really staggering.’

Gote lives in Amsterdam. ‘I pay 240 euros a month for my rail season ticket for Amsterdam Lelylaan-Leiden Central Station. That means I have to pay almost two hundred euros out of my own pocket. I think that’s unacceptable, and I live relatively close by. Leiden’s travel allowance policy is also very unfavourable to colleagues who travel by car.’

Her colleague at the Chemistry Institute, Jeroen Brzoskowski, has to spend even more money. ‘I live in Tilburg and spend 370 euros a month on train travel’, he says. ‘The university reimburses just over ten percent of that amount. I think it’s a rather scanty sum, because a first-year PhD candidate only earns 2,100 euros per month. So I have to hand over about 20 percent of my income to NS.’


On top of that, costs are rising dramatically, says Gote. ‘Groceries are getting more expensive and energy prices are going up; and the university doesn’t compensate for this.’ Travelling during off-peak hours is also not an option, as Gote teaches in the lab from nine to five. ‘I can’t just say: I’ll be there at ten and leave at eight.’

'Many other universities work with a much higher travel allowance'

The meagre travel allowance poses a problem for many staff members, and relocating to Leiden, or the surrounding area, is often not an option. ‘Because of the tightness in the housing market, it’s difficult to find housing at the moment’, says Brzoskowski. ‘I hope to relocate to Sassenheim soon. That way, I’ll only have to pay 62 euros a month.’ Gote: ‘The tight housing market is also a major drawback for PhD candidates from abroad.’

The biggest stumbling block is the ceiling amount of 45 euros per month, agrees Nicole van Os, coordinator of studies at the Faculty of Humanities and, on behalf of the General Education Union, chair of the Local Consultative Committee, in which unions consult with the university. ‘Many of the other universities work with a much higher travel allowance ceiling. For example, TU Eindhoven has a ceiling of 150 kilometres per day, at a rate of 12 cents per kilometre. That’s a maximum allowance of 320 euros per month, based on 214 working days per year or an average of 17.8 working days per month at 1.0 FTE.’

Groningen only pays 4 cents per kilometre, ‘but applies a much higher ceiling amount than Leiden’, says Van Os.


Gote thinks ‘a minimum reimbursement rate of 50 percent of travel expenses’ is realistic. ‘But you might expect more. The least the university can do is raise the allowance to the tax-free reimbursement of 19 cents per kilometre.’

The unions are trying to raise the allowance. ‘For years, the Personnel Monitor has shown that the low travel allowance is a key issue for employees’, says Van Os. ‘It also forms an obstacle when it comes to recruitment, given the occasionally tight labour market.’

'The possibility of a more generous travel allowance is currently under consideration'

Administrators also acknowledge this. Dean of the Law School Joanne van der Leun recently pointed out during a Faculty Council meeting that it is more difficult to find staff. ‘We often hear that the travel allowance in Leiden is relatively low. It’s something that’s regularly brought up.’
In May 2022, the unions sent a memo to the Executive Board, Van Os says. ‘In addition to raising the ceiling amount, we would also like the Board to encourage public transport over motorised transport by differentiating between the two.’ She would like the allowance to be distance-based. ‘This would mean reimbursing a maximum number of kilometres per day, for example 65 kilometres per day, one way. An open question is whether or not it’s a good idea to stratify; differentiate the allowance rates according to salary scale.’


The University Council has also addressed the issue. ‘We’re currently working on the budget’, says Max van Haastrecht, council member for PhDoc, the party for PhD candidates and postdocs. ‘I’ve submitted a written question regarding the travel allowance to the Board. We were informed that the possibility of a more generous travel allowance is currently under consideration. A meeting with the Rector and PhD candidate representatives will be held soon and this matter will also be addressed.’

The Board is aware of the concerns, responds university spokesperson Caroline van Overbeeke. ‘These are uncertain times and there is more uncertainty to come. That’s why it’s difficult to look ahead at the moment. This affects the university’s financial possibilities.’

Working from home is also a point of consideration. ‘There is an allowance in place for that too: some people work from home more than others, for example. All of that factors into this discussion.’


In addition to the basic travel allowance, other options are available. In the Terms of Employment Individual Choices Model, employees can apply for an additional travel allowance.

The university calculates the number of commuter kilometres based on an employee’s average and multiplies it by €0.19. The system will then deduct the resulting amount from the gross salary. As a result, an employee pays less income tax.

But that is just one of the options in that model, says Nicole van Os. ‘It also includes, for example, an allowance for a bicycle, gym membership and union membership. So it might seem like a generous gift, but you’re basically paying out of your own pocket.’

Moreover, the tax authority also allows you to deduct commuting expenses if you travel by public transport, says Van Os.