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What is a joint PhD?

A joint or double PhD, known as ‘gezamenlijk doctoraat’ or ‘dubbeldoctoraat’ in Dutch and ‘cotutelle de thèse’ in French, stands for a doctorate which is executed, written and defended under the joint responsibility of two partner institutions. In concrete terms, this means that the Vrije Universiteit Brussel cooperates with another institution.

The terms of cooperation are stated for each PhD candidate individually in a contract signed by the rectors or other authorized signatories of the two institutions, the PhD candidate and the supervisors.

Why do a joint PhD?

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

Moreover, a joint PhD formally underscores the PhD candidate’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 other career sectors.


Can I start a joint PhD?

Different institutions may have different educational ideals, rules and regulations. VUB's Joint PhD Office helps doctoral candidates to understand the terms for their research projects.

The conditions for conducting a joint PhD in Flanders are set out in the Higher Education Code (Codex Hoger Onderwijs) of 11 October 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 candidate 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). 
  1. The candidate is enrolled in both institutions, starting with the academic year in which the joint PhD would begin. 
  1. The candidate has a supervisor in each partner institution. 
  1. The candidate conducts at least six months for doctoral research at each partner institution. This is possible in one continuous period or over several periods.
  1. All involved parties sign an individual joint or double PhD agreement. The Joint PhD Office must be involved in all steps of handling this agreement. 


Joint or double 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 candidate is required to enroll 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.

However, 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 jointphd@vub.be

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

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

The final version of any joint PhD agreement needs to be approved by the Joint PhD Office before it can be signed.  Please note that the signature process cannot be started before the PhD candidate is correctly enrolled at VUB. 

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.

For collaborations with non-Flemish institutions 

Once you have a promotor at each institution, ask the partner institution for the coordinates of their counterpart for the VUB’s Joint PhD Office and communicate this information to jointphd@vub.be. The VUB’s Joint PhD Office will then start the contract negotiation process. There is no need to fill out any template before an agreement on the content of such document is reached. You will be invited to do so at that time by the Joint PhD Office.

The VUB has developed a model agreement which the Joint PhD Office will use as a basis for negotiations.  For some institutions such negotiations have already taken place so it might be possible for the Joint PhD Office to use these earlier agreed upon templates.

For collaborations with Flemish institutions or with KMS/RMA

Fill in the request form for a Joint PhD with a Flemish institution and send it to jointphd@vub.be. After verification by the head of the department that the conditions for a joint PhD are met, the procedure can start.

For outgoing PhD candidates: The correct template for the Joint PhD-agreement will be filled in and sent to you, your VUB-promotor(s) and the faculty for review and approval. Once approved, the Joint PhD of VUB will send the proposal to the Joint PhD-office of the partner institution.

For incoming PhD candidates: Once the Joint Phd Office received the proposal of the partner institution, the agreement will be reviewed and send to the VUB-promotor(s) and the faculty for approval.


Progress and assessment of the thesis

IMPORTANT: the PhD-student must review the Joint PhD-agreement, the rules of both the universities and the supplementary faculty regulations throughout the entire process and certainly at every important stage in the doctorate (progress of the PhD, registration, submission of the PhD...) and must keep the administrations (faculty) of both institutions informed.

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

The doctoral thesis in a joint PhD project is written and defended in the language approved in the contract by all parties. The PhD candidate 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 at VUB comprises a minimum of six members, including the two supervisors and two members external to both institutions. Each of the two partner institutions will appoint at least two members of the examination board. Any deviation from this composition needs to be approved by the competent faculty body.


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 degree stating one title and discipline. It is awarded if there is full equivalence between the PhD degrees of both partner institutions. 
  • The degree can be printed on either one joint or two separate diploma certificates.


Double degree 

  • Awarded if there is no degree equivalence between the two partner institutions or the titles awarded by each institution are not exactly the same. The resulting diploma will state the two titles.
  • Double degrees may also take the form of either one certificate or two separate certificates.

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. 

Financial support

Bench Fee

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

What is a bench fee? 

The bench fee is a one-off payment awarded to doctoral candidates who follow a joint PhD trajectory. 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 candidates who are correctly enrolled as doctoral students at the VUB.

If the PhD already receives an annual travel/research allowance (EUTOPIA), the bench fee does not apply.

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 Joint PhD Office will be recognised); 
  • the candidate is enrolled at the VUB as a doctoral student.


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 candidate and the 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 candidate.

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 candidate must report this to the Joint PhD Office. If applicable, a termination document will be prepared and signed by all parties. Upon discontinuation of the joint phd, the financial department is asked to transfer the amount not yet used from the bench fee back to R&D for reinvestment in new Joint PhDs.

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