Low-paid PhD researchers should get €25,000 a year, says Government report

Researchers, paid an average of €18,500, say system unsustainable due to low pay and rising cost of living

A national review of State supports for thousands of PhD researchers is expected to recommend increasing their pay to €25,000 in an attempt to retain research talent.

About 6,000 doctoral researchers across higher education institutions are in receipt of stipends and most are paid at a standard rate of some €18,500 annually.

The low rates of pay have sparked protests over recent months and warnings from students that inflation and cost-of-living issues have created a “crisis” which threatens the sustainability of higher education research.

A draft national review, which focuses on the adequacy of State supports for PhD researchers, says stipends should be increased to at least €25,000, informed sources said.


The report was commissioned by Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, who is due to receive a final version later this month. It was commissioned in the context of the Government’s research and innovation strategy, Impact 2030, which aims to boost funding for the sector and reward research talent at all career stages.

It is also understood to avoid making a firm recommendation on whether students should be categorised as employees due to the complexity of the issues involved.

Mr Harris met a group of academics last week who presented him with an open letter signed by almost 2,000 researchers. They have warned that Ireland risks falling behind other EU member states unless there is a step-change in how the sector is funded.

He is understood to have said a significant hike in pay for PhDs was set to be proposed, which would need sign-off by the Government in the context of the forthcoming Budget.

Postgraduates students, meanwhile, have been campaigning for substantial improvements to their pay and working conditions.

The Postgraduate Workers Organisation, the product of a merger involving two groups representing those in the sector, says average pay for those undertaking research while pursuing a PhDs is just €7.88 per hour, well below the minimum wage.

It also argues that the categorisation of researchers as workers rather than students has excluded them from rent-related and other social welfare supports.

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

In a statement, the Department of Further and Higher Education said the national review of supports for PhD students, co-chaired by Dr Andrea C Johnson and David Cagney, is concluding a comprehensive round of stakeholder consultations and written submissions.

“There are very significant complexities involved and options will need very careful consideration as part of the review,” a spokesman said. “The co-chairs will provide their first report to the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science shortly.”

Trinity move

He said that following consideration by the Minister and his officials, the first report may be presented to Government before being published.

“Any decision the Minister makes on measures to support PhD researchers will be informed by the outcome of this review,” the spokesman added.

Last February, Trinity College Dublin announced that it planned to boost stipends for about 200 internally-funded PhD researchers from between €6,500-€18,000 to €25,000 next September.

The move is understood to have caused tension among other universities that have been waiting for the outcome of the national review.

Trinity told staff it did not have control over their stipend rates for PhD researchers funded by other agencies and was partly-funding increases for internally-funded students by reducing the number of awards.

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