Postgraduate researchers protest over pay: ‘People are skipping meals in order to do research here’

‘Love Irish Research’ themed events took place at University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Galway, Maynooth University and Trinity College Dublin

Postgraduate researchers staged protests at a number of universities on Wednesday as part of an ongoing campaign for improved pay and conditions along with recognition as workers rather than students.

“Love Irish Research” themed events took place at University College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Galway, Maynooth University and Trinity College Dublin.

A portion of their postgraduate researchers gathered to highlight an issue they say has not been adequately addressed by increases announced in last year’s budget, which pushed the average stipend in the sector from€19,000 up to €22,000.

A Government-backed independent report had, however, suggested raising the figure to €25,000. Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris described the €3,000 increase as “step one”, but the shortfall prompted frustration among a group that hoped for full implementation of the recommendation.


The researchers’ representative body, the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO), said progress had been made on a number of fronts but that many researchers were still having to live on incomes well below the minimum wage.

Here some of those researchers explain their situation:

Anna Attwood, Ireland

I got a Provost’s award (funding) before I started but a lot of people aren’t so lucky, they are self-funded to start with and hoping to get a scholarship. A lot of them are living in poverty.

I get about €18,000 a year and am in a shared house. It’s not the most expensive but there isn’t anything left at the end of the month. I know people who are literally homeless, or couch-surfing… people who are skipping meals in order to do research here.

I know people who are doing their PhDs in the Netherlands and in France and other places and they live in flats. They live in their own flats. By themselves. They are able to afford to live in a comfortable situation and are not living like in digs as if they were 19. They’re PhD students who are married and have children. But (in Ireland) they are expected to still live on poverty wages.

Peter Fraundorfer, Austria

I spent the seven years in Vienna, at the University of Vienna and Austrian Academy of Sciences then two years as an archivist for the archbishop and now I’m here.

My status is research student and my funding is about €18,000 each year, paid monthly. It’s way below the minimum wage.

I do a little bit of work as a teaching assistant and it helps but it isn’t much.

I remember when I came here, I spent like all my savings on private student accommodation first. That was very expensive. I spent all I saved up from two years of work. I was basically down to zero.

You need to be lucky to find something suitable in Dublin. Now I live in Rialto. It was a good find but it’s still €700 for a share in a small house.

I paid less in Vienna for 30square-metre flat with a balcony.

Mathew Clear, England

I’m from Yorkshire and have been here since October 2020. I knew how bad the financial side of it was going to be before I came and so I saved some money, living with my parents, working from home but it’s probably worse than I expected.

I had one year of funding for the Irish Research Council but then that expired.

Since that, I get scraps of work wherever I can just to keep afloat. I do some teaching, my supervisor had a project I did some work on, I run workshops. I’ve done some database work.

But between the workshops and teaching my income is maybe €7000 and that’s not good, as you can imagine.

But I’m fortunate in that I probably have one of the most affordable rooms in Dublin. So I’m an exception in that I can actually survive because of that and because I had saved some money.

But there are people who are essentially on the breadline.

Gabriel Coleman, United States

I am doing a PhD in environmental history looking at Irish agricultural industrialisation.

We’re were funded by the Kinsella fund, it’s a philanthropic grant and we’re now getting €25,000. I think I was on €17,300 when I started and it was totally unliveable. But we advocated for ourselves, argued that it was a flagship Trinity programme and they gave us an increase.

The difference is unbelievable, life-changing really. I was barely getting by, having to put money on credit cards and ask family and friends to help with the rent when I first moved. And the money you were getting could be delayed for months. You’d have these crazy delays.

Getting paid that €25,000 has meant I’m able to pay my rent. I’m living with my partner now and I’m able to buy a round of pints for people now whereas if I was going out before, I was relying on a friend or partner.

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Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times