The Revenue Commission has stated that PhD researchers may be required to pay tax on their stipends if they are not in receipt of full-time education.
In documents seen by The University Times, Revenue stated that “Section 193 TCA 1997 provides that income arising from a scholarship is exempt from income tax, USC and PRSI when certain conditions are satisfied”.
“The main condition is the scholarship must be held by a person receiving full-time instruction at a university, college, school or other educational establishment”, they added.
“‘Scholarship’ includes an exhibition, bursary or other similar educational endowment. The object of the scholarship must be the promotion of the education of the holder rather than the promotion of research through the holder.”
In a statement to The University Times, member of the National Committee of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) Jeffrey Sardina said: “As a PhD researcher, I am paid 18.5k / year for full-time work – that’s 22 per cent below minimum wage with no PRSI, parental leave, sick leave, contract, or other workers’ rights”.
“I am categorised as a “student” – even though my primary focus at TCD is producing intellectual property and teaching for the university”, he added.
“When I started my PhD, I was required to sign a “Scholarship Exemption Declaration Form” stating that I do not need to pay taxes since I am intended to be receiving full time instruction in my programme.”
“I am not in receipt of any such instruction in any form. After starting my PhD, I realised the conditions were not at all like those laid out in the form, and therefore that it was requested of me under false pretences by Trinity College and by SFI, the agency that manages scholarships for many PhDs including myself.”
He added: “As a result, Revenue has told me that this exemption does not apply to me, therefore mandating that I pay over 1k extra in taxes out of a budget that is already 22 per cent below minimum wage because of the false pretences under which I was accepted into my PhD programme”.
He went on to describe the “seeming deception” as “grossly unacceptable”, stating that “Revenue’s claim that I do not qualify as a student is in line with what I have believed for a long time” and that his “primary function as a PhD is to generate intellectual property for my college through research and to teach”.
“This situation must change now”, he said. “Living 22 per cent below minimum wage, plus taxes, for no workers’ rights is a gross violation of my rights … I am sure I need not remind you of the cost of living and housing crisis we are living through.”
“This entire event is reminiscent of a system so fundamentally broken that I am required to pay for the “right” to work – with no workers’ rights.”
Despite this, he emphasised that the issue lies with funding systems rather than with supervisors.
“I also wish to highlight that this is not a problem with any individual supervisors – it is a result of an abusive system that they cannot control”, he said.
“This fault lies not with them at all – in fact, many of them are also in precarious situations. This fault is with the broader system of PhD classification, funding, and hiring”, he finished.
The declaration form that PhD researchers are required to sign includes sections to declare their course and institution as well as the source of their scholarship.
It also requires researchers to declare that they “are in receipt of full-time instruction at an education establishment”, that “the object of the scholarship is the promotion of [their] education rather than the promotion of research through [them]”, that “there is no element of service (directly or indirectly) between the sponsor and [them] or between the colleges/university and [them]” and that “the scholarship does not arise from an office or employment (directly or indirectly) with the sponsor or with the college/university”.
College and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), one of the primary funding bodies for PhD research, have been contacted for comment.