The Irish government has announced a €3000 (£2600) increase in stipends for PhDs funded by two government research bodies, rather than the hoped for €6000 or more. PhD researchers have expressed disappointment as the stipend boost falls below the recommendation of an independent review to increase them to €25,000 per year.
The increase applies only to PhDs funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Irish Research Council, around 30% of all PhDs, bringing their stipend from €19,000 to €22,000. ‘This will serve to widen existing pay inequality among PhDs working in the same offices and labs,’ said the Postgraduate Workers Organisation (PWO) union, noting in a statement that pay can be as low as €9000 per annum. The Health Research Board is alone in announcing that it will be increasing stipends for PhD candidates to €25,000.
The independent review released in June investigated the situation for 10,000 PhD researchers in Ireland and made recommendations beyond a raise. It noted that, with near full-time employment in Ireland, a four-year commitment with variable responsibilities and outcomes needed to be an attractive option in the short and long term.
Simon Harris, the minister for research and higher education, described the stipend move as ‘another positive step in the direction that we need to travel in relation to better supporting our PhD researchers’. But PhD researchers noted that the government had nothing to say about their lack of parental or sick leave entitlements and a failure to address issues that non-EU/non-European Economic Area researchers face, such as a €1000 fee for a residency permit.
The PWO observed that because the stipends are tax free, PhD researchers do not qualify for tax credits or social security contributions. PhD researchers do not, therefore, contribute towards their pension and cannot benefit from measures in the budget such as an increase to a rent tax credit.
‘I was disappointed that the increase was below what was recommended by the review and that only the pay increase was talked about,’ says Kimberly Conteddu, a PhD candidate at the SFI Centre for Research Training in Foundations of Data Science. ‘Everything else was pushed under the carpet.’
Emma Chambers, a postdoc at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, says she is hoping that the increase is just the start. The independent report had said the stipend should reflect cost of living increases, she notes, and this seems to have been overlooked.
‘PhD researchers in Ireland need to be paid at least a minimum wage if not a living wage so that they can afford to live in Ireland,’ says Chambers. ‘If we don’t start to fund them in this way, Ireland is going to lose much of its researchers, unfortunately.’
Chambers won’t benefit directly from any increase in stipends, but she plans to hire a PhD researcher as part of her project mapping Ireland’s geothermal energy resources. ‘I work with many talented PhD researchers and they are struggling to afford rents and the price-of-living increases in Dublin,’ she adds.
The PWO will begin consulting members to decide on its next move, which includes the possibility of industrial action. ‘The only way forward will be to take industrial action,’ says Conteddu. ‘Talking to the government and to universities has not made a difference. We need to show them the role we have in universities by not demonstrating, teaching or supervising undergrad projects.’