The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has signed an open letter by student collective PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) calling for an urgent increase to postgraduate research stipends.
Addressed to the Minister for Higher Education and Research Simon Harris along with funding agencies and higher education institutions across Ireland, the letter expresses “deep concern with the current PhD stipend scheme in light of the cost of living crisis and coming inflation”.
The letter, which has almost 500 signatures, states: “The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported an approximate 9.1 per cent inflation of prices in the last year, which means that the current average stipend of €18,500 has the same purchasing power as a €17,000 stipend pre-inflation, when current first-year PhD students accepted their roles.”
Signing the letter on behalf of the USI and the postgraduate students it represents, Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs Waqar Ahmed said: “USI has campaigned for several years for a much-need increase to stipends for postgraduates – which were cut severely in 2012 – to bring them in line with the Living Wage.”
“This has never been more necessary than in the current times of the cost-of-living crisis and high inflation”, he said. He added that many postgraduates are not being “fairly compensated for their teaching” on top of receiving stipends below the minimum wage.
“PhDs, and other postgraduate students, play a hugely important role in the advancement of Irish society and the economy and they should not be expected to live on such low rates of pay.”
He continued: “This open letter, which I have signed on behalf of USI, calls for all stipends to be increased to €28,000 in order to address inflation, the housing and cost-of-living crises, and in recognition of the new government valuation on PhD-level research as seen in their most recent PhD funding initiative.”
PCAU, the group that penned the letter, was established on July 8th after approximately 350 PhD students “came together to address the increasing challenges facing PhD researchers in the current economy”.
PCAU has requested a meeting between Acting President Jeffrey (Siothrún) Sardina and the various PhD funding agencies to discuss how stipends can be brought to a liveable and equitable level.
PCAU states that the current PhD stipend is insufficient on several accounts and the current cost-of-living crisis and inflation levels have promoted this new action.
Additionally, PCAU describes the recent Government announcement that 400 doctoral students will be recruited through the “Innovate for Ireland” partnership between the Government and private industry on an annual stipend of €28,000 as “not acceptable”.
The collective described the move as “grave inequality created by proposing €28k PhD stipends without increasing the pay for existing PhD researchers.”
“In addition to the current €18.5k stipend being below both living and minimum wage, it is now creating a vast inequality where current PhD researchers will be performing equal work for only 66% of the pay of new researchers.”
“It is in the opinion of the PCAU that all PhD stipends must be increased to €28k in order to address inflation, the housing and cost of living crisis, and the new government valuation on PhD-level research as seen in their most recent PhD funding initiative.”