Earlier this week, professors and PhD students alike expressed outrage at the Ussher PhD positions being offered by College for next year. The positions – which require a first-class degree, a personal statement, a research proposal and two references – provide a stipend of just €13,000 with tuition paid for only three out of the four years of the programme.
Research staff and students are constantly calling for greater funding for PhD students, but these positions are quite some distance from making PhDs financially accessible.
It is entirely unrealistic to expect students to live on €13,000 a year, especially in a city like Dublin with ever-increasing living costs. This stipend would either force students to take on further part-time work alongside full-time PhD commitments, rely on financial support from their family – or, as Prof Lewys Jones pointed out when speaking to The University Times, “limit the selection pool to people living with their parents”.
PhD students in Ireland already grapple with precarious working conditions and low pay. Earlier this month, the newly formed Postgraduate Workers’ Alliance launched a petition that sought to create a mandate to reform the rights of PhD students in Ireland, with one of the primary aims being the recognition of PhD students as workers in a step to ensure fair pay.
Although there have been some attempts made in College to provide a basic level of financial support for PhD students – for example, the School of Physics recently raised the minimum stipend value for all candidates to €18,000 – there is a serious and urgent need for a coherent, College-wide effort to ensure that PhD students are fairly compensated for the work they do.
With PhD studies focusing almost exclusively on research, it should be obvious that admission to these programmes should be based on academic excellence and research potential. When economic factors come into play that may freeze those who cannot afford it out of these programmes, students, staff and research at large lose out. Affluence should not be an unwritten entry requirement to PhD programmes.