Trinity College Dublin is to boost stipends for about 200 PhD researchers from between €6,500-€18,000 to €25,000 following criticism that some are struggling on incomes below the minimum wage.
The move comes in advance of a national review of the funding supports for PhD students which is focusing on the adequacy of supports.
In an email to staff and students on Wednesday, Prof Martine Smith, Trinity’s dean of graduate studies, said the university is increasing stipends to €25,000 for its three internal postgraduate research schemes with effect from September 2023.
The old stipend varied between different cohorts and ranged from between €6,500-€18,000. The change will affect more than 200 students, around 15 per cent of Trinity’s PhD researchers.
The university said it did not have control over their stipend rates for PhD researchers funded by other agencies.
It said the national review of funding supports for PhD researchers is under way and it will continue to advocate for “living stipends” for all funded PhD researchers as an “essential policy move”.
Nationally, it is estimated that there are about 4,000 research students in receipt of externally funded stipends from the Exchequer and 2,000 more who are internally funded through the budgets of individual universities.
The stipend given to most doctoral researchers in higher education is a standard rate of €18,500.
Payments for most PhD researchers were cut after the financial crash as an austerity measure but were never fully restored.
The PhDs’ Collective Action Union has been campaigning for a better stipend and has warned that low pay combined with inflation and cost-of-living issues have created a “crisis” which threatens the sustainability of the postgraduate education system.
A group of research vice-presidents under the Irish Universities Association has recommended that PhD stipends be increased to €24,000.
Prof Smith said in a message to staff and students that the change in Trinity’s stipend will apply to all new students recruited to its internally funded PhDs, as well as existing students for the remaining years of their award entitlement.
Given the “chronic underfunding” of this sector, she said it is inevitable that in committing to providing a “living stipend” the university would have reduce the number of awards, currently numbering 280 at any one time. However, it plans to return to this baseline number within five years.
She sad the decision represented the “change in mindset needed towards the value placed on PhD researchers, not just here in Trinity but across Ireland”.
Carl O’Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent
Your regular guide to the latest education news, analysis and opinion, as well as classroom resources, posters and lots more