A government-commissioned report on state supports for PhD researchers has recommended that stipends be “increased significantly” with an ideal target of €25,000.
Published today, the report says that increases should ideally take effect from September, or 1 January 2024 at the latest.
Currently, most postgraduate researchers receive a stipend of around €18.5k. The report estimates that the additional annual cost to the state of raising PhD stipends to this optimum level would be €55.2 million, approximately 58.3% of current spending on stipends.
The report also advises that government address unique issues faced by non-EU researchers “with a view to mitigating if not eliminating some of the more challenging aspects”.
Among these challenges it notes the costs and delays associated with visa registration and renewals and the costs associated with mandatory health insurance.
It also pointed out the inability of postgraduates’ spouses to work in Ireland due to visa restrictions, noting that PhD researchers are “typically older than undergraduate students”, and more likely to have families.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said that the report “marks an inflection point in our thinking on many critical issues for PhD researchers and how we can better support them”.
Minister Harris thanked review chairs Dr Andrea Johnson and David Cagney and all stakeholders who engaged with it.
According to the Department of Higher Education, the chairs of the review prioritised “pressing challenges” facing postgraduates in the report, and will focus on outstanding elements within the scope of the review in a second report at a later date.
First announced in October, the review is based on a months-long stakeholder consultation process, including 35 stakeholder meetings as well as over 750 public submissions.
Stakeholder meetings included PhD researcher groups such as the Postgraduate Worker’s Organisation (PWO), universities, research funders, trade unions, enterprise representative bodies and “relevant international counterparts”.
Trinity’s Dean of Graduate Studies Professor Martine Smith has said that College is “delighted” with the publication of the report, adding that it “recognise[s] the significant stakeholder engagement that underpins the report”.
“We particularly welcome the recommendation to increase stipends paid to PhD researchers in recognition of the very significant financial pressures they face,” Smith said.
“PhD researchers are critical contributors to Trinity’s research eco-system. Addressing the real additional challenges faced by those coming from outside the EEA will be essential in enabling us to maintain an inclusive, diverse, and dynamic research community and we welcome the reviewers’ commitment to highlighting these issues.”
Smith added that such challenges are among many currently being addressed through College’s Postgraduate Renewal Programme, a local strategy to enhance graduate education as a core focus of the university.
“We hope to work closely with the reviewers as they continue their important work in exploring the many other issues that affect PhD researchers in Ireland that could not be included in this initial review.”
The report has faced significant delays since first being announced, having originally been scheduled for publication in early 2023. A three-month delay was announced in February, which the PWO said was “unacceptable”.
The PhD campaign group said that it was crucial the report was completed in time for its recommendations to be incorporated into Budget 2024.
Speaking in the Dáil earlier this month, Minister Harris said it was his intention to present the report to the cabinet in June, to “enable us to have an informed discussion about how we can better support PhD researchers in advance of the budgetary process” which takes place in October.