Postgraduate Workers Alliance welcome government review of supports for PhD researchers

PGWA welcomed the  broad scope of the review, which will include an evaluation of financial supports and a consideration of the employment status of PhD researchers

The Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance of Ireland (PGWA) has welcomed a review of state supports for PhD researchers announced last week.

In a press release, the PGWA welcomed the  broad scope of the review, which will address many of the issues the group has highlighted in its campaigning and its National Charter for Postgraduate Working Rights.

The review, which was announced last week by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation, Research and Science Simon Harris, will include an evaluation of current financial supports that are in place, as well as a review of the adequacy, consistency and equity of arrangements for PhD researchers, including equity and welfare considerations.

It will also take into account the status of PhD researchers, where the PGWA says it “will advocate for a model similar to those found in continental Europe, where PhD researchers are treated as salaried employees, as opposed to students”.

“The announcement of this review is an encouraging sign for PGWA and the PhD researchers that have campaigned for reform in recent months” it continued. “This review is the direct result of protests, like the joint PCAU-PGWA rally outside Leinster House on Budget Day, of lobbying efforts and organising on campuses across the state.”

While the group welcomed the announcement, it said that it is “merely a first step”, calling for larger scale change: “PhDs continue to struggle, our situation made considerably more difficult by the housing and cost of living crises.”

“We will continue to escalate and broaden the base of our campaign until significant reforms are implemented in full – we will not settle for reports, statements or temporary solutions, we need deep, structural changes to how PhDs operate in Ireland.”

The statement called on Harris to engage with PGWA as a representative body for PhDs, saying that it was “vital” to do so.

“PGWA and our partners in the PhD Collective Action Union are building a union for PhDs, hoping to establish collective bargaining for researchers that will endure into the future, preventing a repeat of the crisis that low paid PhDs find themselves in today.”

The group highlighted that Ireland compares negatively to other European countries in terms of PhD supports, with the average PhD stipend being €16,500, compared to an EU average of €32,100.

A recent survey of 285 PhD students in Ireland conducted by researchers from Trinity found that 100% of respondents said that they were living under the minimum wage.

“If Irish research is to have a future, PhDs must be paid commensurate with our essential contribution to the sector,” the PGWA statement added.

“Involving PGWA in this review will be an important first test of the Minister’s commitment to the future of Irish Research. We have written to Minister Harris making our views clear and look forward to his response.”

Chair of Trinity PGWA Conor Reddy said: “This review has been a long time coming, it is the result of tireless efforts by PhDs all over Ireland who have protested, lobbied and organised to get us to this point.”

“It is now vital that Minister Harris engages with our union and that he delivers meaningful reforms as soon as the review process is completed.” He said that “we are in crisis, we need action now”.

“PGWA will continue its efforts to organise PhDs across the country and would encourage PhDs to join our union now that its impact has been made clear.”

Established in 2019, PGWA is an organisation representing the interests of PhDs and working Postgraduate Researchers across Ireland, with branches in eight universities across the island.

In February, Trinity College Dublin Student Union (TCDSU) Council passed a motion giving its formal support to Trinity PGWA.

An increase of PhD stipends to €28,000 a year was a key demand of the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) national Student Walkout which took place last month.

In September, USI joined the PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) in a protest outside the Dáil with the same demand.

The review of state supports for PhD researchers will begin in November, and is due to be completed in early 2023.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.