Joint PhD Guide


All contracts for Joint PhDs have to be processed by the Centrale PhD Office! Always jointphd [at] vub [dot] ac [dot] be (contact us) when you are considering starting a Joint PhD, at least one year before the defence.



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

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

It is a prerequisite for a joint PhD that the PhD student has completed a minimum of six months of his or her doctoral research work at the partner institution during one or several periods.  

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 partner institution should be backed by similar legislation creating the preconditions for joint PhD projects.

A joint PhD may result in either of two types of diploma, both conferring a doctor’s degree: a joint degree or a double degree.




A joint PhD includes a number of advantages. It 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 external 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 PhD degree certificate makes official mention of co-operation with another partner institution, thus making the most of the student’s mobility during the research programme. This will prove to be an enormous asset in terms of career perspectives, both within the academic community and in the outside world.



A joint PhD can take effect at any moment. As many cooperations only establish themselves in the course of the PhD trajectory, it is not mandatory to arrange the agreement at the start of the PhD research.

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.


  • The candidate has a supervisor in each partner institution.
  • The candidate works at least six months, for each partner institution. Which is possible in one stay or more.
  • The partner institution can rely on a legislation which allows a joint PhD.
  • The parties sign an agreement.


Always contact jointphd [at] vub [dot] ac [dot] be () when you are considering starting a Joint PhD.

Agreements negotiated and/or signed without the Central PhD Office's knowledge and approval are not accepted.

Start the procedure at least 1 year before the defense.

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 jointphd [at] vub [dot] ac [dot] be (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 jointphd [at] vub [dot] ac [dot] be (the Central PhD Office).

Please note: 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.

You can find a flow chart of the procedure by clicking on the right document:

- Flow chart flemish partner institutions 
- Flow chart non-flemish partner institutions


The PhD student must be enrolled both institutions. This means that he/she 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). So also in the period or years during which an incoming PhD student is not present at the VUB he/she will need to be enrolled at the VUB as a PhD student.

A joint PhD student is - just like any other PhD student - bound to the VUB regulations. This means that he/she needs the authorisation of the university to start a PhD at the VUB and therefore needs to make an official request. Click here for more information on the enrolment procedure.


Bench Fee

As part of the joint PhD agreements signed between the VUB and other domestic or foreign universities, the Research Council provides a one-off bench fee for PhD students enrolled at the VUB who wish to pursue a joint PhD project. This financial support option is only available for PhD students who are regularly enrolled as such at the VUB, provided that the agreement is fully signed and that one fully signed copy of this agreement has been returned to the Central PhD Office.

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

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

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…

The bench fee amount is transferred as soon as all parties have signed the joint PhD contract and as the candidate is enrolled at the VUB. Only agreements which have passed through the Central PhD Office and have been approved by it, will be recognised.

The bench fee is paid into a special account of the department to which the PhD student and his or her supervisor belong and is managed by the VUB supervisor. For each PhD student only one bench fee may be paid out.

However, this rule does not apply if the supervisor can present evidence proving that the student’s stay of a minimum of six months at the guest institution (during one period or spread over several shorter stays) took place before it was decided to break off the joint PhD project/terminate the contract. Should a joint PhD project be stopped before it is completed or a joint PhD contract be terminated, then the student must report this fact to the Central PhD Office.


Good to know

In which language is the doctoral thesis written and defended?

The doctoral thesis in a joint PhD project is written and defended in the language approved in the contract by all parties. In this the stipulations of both the Central PhD Regulations and the supplementary faculty regulations should be respected. The PhD student must provide a summary in a second  language if this is required by the supplementary faculty regulations.

What is the procedure for the final exam in a joint PhD?

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 composition of the examination board must not conflict with the stipulations of the Central Regulations regarding the Conferment of PhD degrees of the VUB, nor with the supplementary faculty regulations of the relevant VUB faculty.



A joint PhD can lead to two types of diploma, both conferring a PhD (doctoral) degree: a ‘joint degree’ or a ‘double degree’.

  • Joint degree
    A joint degree certificate, stating one, joint PhD degree and the discipline, will be awarded if there is full equivalence between the PhD degrees of both partner institutions.
  • Double degree
    If there is no degree equivalence at the two partner institutions the resulting diploma is a double degree, stating the two titles. This may take the form of one certificate or two separate certificates each giving one degree. If there is one certificate this will in principle 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.





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