A doctoral researcher’s appeal against an unemployment security decision was successful

Unemployment security has a number of pitfalls for a grant-funded doctoral researcher. As the case of one member indicates, one should not necessarily just settle for a negative unemployment security decision. 

A member of ours, who was working on their doctoral dissertation, had originally received financial aid for postgraduate studies and then made the shift to grant funding. When the grant funding ended, they registered as an unemployed jobseeker with the TE Office and applied for unemployment benefits.  Without funding, it was impossible for their doctoral work to progress and there was no obstacle to their taking full-time employment. Despite this fact, the TE Office issued a negative statement, according to which the doctoral researcher was not entitled to unemployment benefits on the basis of their full-time studies.

Upon receiving the negative decision, our member appealed the decision to the Social Security Appeal Board. Despite the backing of the Union Lawyer, the Appeal Board rejected the appeal.

Postgraduate studies are normally considered studies as intended by Chapter 2, Section 10 of the Unemployment Security Act (1290/2002), and as full-time studies, they prevent the right to unemployment benefits. The studies are considered to be full-time if the extent of the study plan contains at least 5 credits per month of studies. If a doctoral researcher becomes unemployed, they must demonstrate that their postgraduate studies are part-time on the basis of either an established employment record during their studies or the extent of the studies themselves.

An updated study plan is essential

People working on a grant are often not considered as having established employment because they do not have an employment relationship with the university. In this case, the option is to demonstrate that the studies are part-time based on their extent. One key problem in our member’s situation was that the TE Office and then the Social Security Appeal Board automatically considered postgraduate studies to be full-time, despite the fact that our member had not actually been carrying out the studies on a full-time basis during the period of unemployment.

According to the decision of the Appeal Board, the extent of our member’s postgraduate studies is assessed on the basis of the study plan drawn up at the time when the studies began. The fact that the period of study had subsequently been extended was not, according to the Board, a reason to consider the studies as being part-time. Although it was evident from the transcript of study records that the postgraduate studies had not progressed without funding, the deceleration of the pace of completion had no impact on the reassessment of the full-time nature of the studies. For this reason, the appeal was rejected by the Social Security Appeal Board.

Following the rejection, we submitted a final appeal to the Insurance Court. In the appeal, we argued that the study plan drawn up at the beginning of the right to postgraduate studies is not a binding document for the researcher, but a plan for the studies on the basis of the information at that time. If the funding for the dissertation ends, the researcher must, in practice, interrupt their work or do it on a part-time basis while searching for a job. In this case, the original study plan will naturally not be realised.

In its decision, the Insurance Court examined, in particular, the updated study plan and guidance agreements submitted by the doctoral researcher. According to the Insurance Court, the current study plans showed that the planned completion time for the postgraduate studies was more than four years. In this case, the scope of the study plan was less than five credits, i.e., the limit to be considered full-time studies. For this reason, the doctoral researcher’s entitlement to any unemployment benefits should not have been denied. When assessing the extent of postgraduate studies, the scope of studies shown in the study plan must be taken into account.

“This decision of the Insurance Count has a broader impact in terms of grant-funded doctoral researchers. It is important for our members to remember that when dissertation work is interrupted due to the end of their funding, it is always essential to then submit updated and current study plans to the employment authorities (TE Office)”, states Salla Viitanen, Union Lawyer for FUURT.

Text: Maiju Meller, Legal Assistant

Read also

Shared rules vitally important in the doctoral researcher-supervisor relationship (pdf)

FUURT’s Grant Information Guide