Portal for

    Cooperation between universities

    PhD topics can easily expand to other locations or disciplines. A partnership between educational institutions can bring your research to a new level.

    What is a joint PhD?

    A joint PhD, known as ‘gezamenlijk doctoraat’ in Dutch and ‘cotutelle de thèse’ in French, stands for a doctoral thesis which is researched, written and defended under the joint responsibility of two partner institutions. In concrete terms, this means thet the Vrije Universiteit Brussel cooperates with another domestic or foreign institution either within or outside Europe.

    The terms of cooperation are stated for each PhD student individually in a contract signed by the rectors of the two institutions,  PhD student and the co-supervisors.

    Why do a joint PhD?

    A joint PhD stimulates and formalises cooperation between research institutions either on a national or an international level, leading to a greater exchange of knowledge. As a result, the PhD student will be in a better position to benefit from a more diverse expertise in the course of his or her research project.

    Moreover, a joint PhD formally underscores the PhD student’s (inter)national mobility during the research programme. The joint PhD certificate makes official mention of the cooperation with another partner institution. This is an asset in terms of career perspectives, both within the academic community and in the outside world.

    If you want to see if you can start a joint PhD, check the necessary conditions and procedures. VUB encourages cooperation between universities and offers some financial support for doctoral students who start a joint PhD.

    Starting a joint PhD

    Different institutions may have different educational ideals. VUB's Central PhD Office helps doctoral students negotiate the terms for their research projects.

    Can I start a joint PhD?

    The conditions for conducting a joint PhD in Flanders are set out in the Higher Education Code (Codex Hoger Onderwijs) of 20 December 2013:

    “A university may confer, in conjunction with another domestic or foreign university, a joint PhD degree or a double PhD degree, provided that a public defense of the thesis has taken place before a jury including professors from the two institutions concerned and that the PhD student has spent a minimum of six months at the partner university for thesis research work.”

    The conditions necessary for a joint PhD can be summarised as follows:

    1. The partner institution relies on a legislation which allows a joint PhD (similar to the Higher Education Code of Flanders).
    2. The candidate is enrolled in both institutions, starting with the academic year in which the joint PhD would begin.
    3. The candidate has a supervisor in each partner institution.
    4. The candidate works at least six months for his or her doctoral research, in each partner institution. This is possible in one stay or more.
    5. All involved parties sign an agreement (the rectors of the two institutions, both co-supervisors and the PhD student). The Central PhD Office must also approve of this agreement.

    Joint PhD agreements have to comply to the regulations of both partner institutions. Therefore, a contract which is to lead to a joint PhD may not conflict with the Central Regulations regarding the Conferment of PhD degrees of the VUB, nor with the supplementary faculty regulations of the relevant VUB faculty.

    The PhD student is required to enrol at both institutions from the academic year in which the contract takes effect up to and including the academic year in which the final PhD examination takes place, without interruptions. You can find out more about the procedures on our Enrolment page.

    When do I apply for a joint PhD?

    You can register for a joint PhD at any moment. It is not mandatory to arrange the agreement at the start of the PhD research. This is because cooperations gradually establish themselves in the course of the PhD trajectory.

    But, because negotiations and the signatures can take several months, it is required to start the procedure at least 1 year prior to the defence.

    Where do I begin?

    If you want to start a joint PhD, the first step is clear: contact the Central PhD Office.

    Agreements negotiated and/or signed without the Central PhD Office's knowledge and approval are not accepted. The Central PhD Office will also help you through the steps you need to take.

    If both institutions allow for a joint PhD, you should start with a request toward the institution you wish to partner with.

    • Incoming PhD students preferably use the model agreements provided by the VUB. Fill out the template as much as possible and send it to the partner institution for validation. If any changes are required, notify the Central PhD Office. The final version needs to be approved by the Central PhD Office before it can be signed.
    • Outgoing PhD students can use the documents provided by the guest institution. VUB's documents can also be used, e.g. if the partner institution does not have a model agreement of their own. Send the proposal to the Central PhD Office.

    There are many prerequisites for a joint PhD. Don't panic - if the legislation of the institutions allows it, it's likely that an agreement will be reached.

    Depending on the situation of the student and the institution, there are different steps you can expect to take. You can track the following flow charts to get an idea on how the procedures will unfold.

    I want to start a joint PhD with an institution located in Flanders

    Flow chart for Flemish institutions

    I want to start a joint PhD with an institution outside Flanders

    Flow chart for non-Flemish institutions

    Evaluating and rewarding a joint PhD

    As you approach the end of your joint PhD, there are some rules to keep in mind when writing and presenting your dissertation.

    Assessing the thesis

    The doctoral thesis in a joint PhD project is written and defended in the language approved in the contract by all parties. The PhD student must provide a summary in a second  language if this is required by the supplementary faculty regulations.

    In principle, the final examination in a joint PhD takes place at the home institution, unless the contract specifies otherwise. The examination board for a joint PhD comprises a minimum of six members, including the two co-supervisors. Each of the two partner institutions will appoint at least two members of the examination board.

    The Central PhD Regulations and the supplementary faculty regulations should be taken into account for all matters regarding the composition of the dissertation and the examination procedure.


    What happens at the end of your collaboration with two institutions? Depending on the disciplines integrated in your doctorate, you will earn one of two types of PhD degree.

    Joint degree

    • A joint certificate stating one degree and discipline. It is awarded if there is full equivalence between the PhD degrees of both partner institutions.

    Double degree

    • Awarded if there is no degree equivalence between the two partner institutions. The resulting diploma will state two titles.
    • Double degrees may take the form of one certificate or two separate certificates, each giving one degree. If there is one certificate, this will be drawn up by the institution where the thesis defence takes place. If there are two certificates, each institution will draw up its own certificate.

    Bench fees

    VUB seeks to encourage research collaborations. The Research Council provides financial support to students pursuing a joint PhD project.

    What is a bench fee?

    The bench fee is a one-off payment given to doctoral students who wish to follow a joint PhD. As part of the joint PhD agreements signed between the VUB and other domestic or foreign universities, the Research Council provides this form of funding to encourage partnerships.

    The bench fee should be seen as a contribution towards the extra costs that a joint PhD project entails. The allocated amount may be used towards the travel and accommodation expenses necessary for the joint PhD project and/or towards the purchase of study or research materials.

    Bench fees are only available for PhD students who are regularly enrolled at the VUB.

    Procedures and amounts

    The fee is transferred as soon as all the following conditions have been met:

    • all parties have signed the joint PhD contract (only agreements which have been approved by the Central PhD Office will be recognised);
    • the candidate has presented the copy of the signed contract to the Central PhD Office;
    • the candidate is enrolled at the VUB.

    The bench fee amount varies depending on the area where the partner university is located:

    • Benelux:  € 2000
    • North America:  € 5000
    • Other countries:  € 4000

    Additional information

    How is the fee transferred?

    • The bench fee is paid into a special account of the department to which the PhD student and his or her supervisor belong. The fee is managed by the VUB supervisor.

    Will I get another bench fee next year?

    • The bench fee is a one-time payment. Only one may be granted per PhD student.

    What happens if the joint PhD is terminated?

    • Should a joint PhD project be stopped before it is completed or if a joint PhD contract is terminated, the student must report this to the Central PhD Office.