Government to review pay rates for thousands of PhD students

Researchers call for payments to be increased for thousands of specialists on incomes ‘below minimum wage’

Pay and condition for PhD thousands of researchers is to be reviewed amid concerns that any are earning below the minimum wage.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has announced a national review, which will focus on the adequacy of financial supports, grants and whether researchers should be categorised as students or employees.

The stipend given to most doctoral researchers in higher education is a standard rate of €18,500.

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.


Payments for most PhD researchers were cut after the financial crash as an austerity measure but were never fully restored.

The review, which commences next month, will also examine supports provided for PhD students in other countries and the impact on the funding of research programmes if there are adjustments to current supports.

In addition, it will focus on graduate outcomes for PhD graduates including return on investment to the researcher, along with visa requirements and duration for non-EU students.

Mr Harris said Ireland’s national strategy for research, published last May, commits to investing in talent and ensuring that there are appropriate supports for researchers.

“This requires comprehensive and considerate consideration. This review will hear from the frontline. Its first step will be to engage with relevant stakeholders including PhD researchers, host institutions, research funders, employers and relevant Government departments such as health, agriculture, food & marine and justice,” he said.

“We want Ireland to be a leader in talent. In order to do that, we have to ensure that our brightest talent here in Ireland can pursue their research ambitions in a supportive environment. I look forward to receiving the report’s recommendations in early 2023.”

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 undergraduate education system.

A group of research vice-presidents under the Irish Universities Association has recommended that PhD stipends be increased to €24,000.

The group has warned of a clear risk that number of research students working in higher education will fall because many students cannot support themselves for the three or four years it takes to get to postdoctoral level.

Minister Harris has said that while the PhD stipend was increased by €500 for researchers in last month’s Budget as a once-off measure, he said he was keen to ensure students receive the support they need.

He said a recommended minimum stipend is one that could be “usefully considered” in the review which s due to be completed in “early 2023″.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent