Pharmacy students welcome removal of ban on being paid during placement

Increase in final year fees after course restructure still ‘major problem’, say protesters

Pharmacy students rally outside the Dáil to express their anger at unpaid placements and increased fees. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Pharmacy students rally outside the Dáil to express their anger at unpaid placements and increased fees. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Third-level pharmacy students welcomed the removal of a ban on paid internship placements, required as part of the final two years of their degrees.

On Thursday, a large number of pharmacy students held a protest outside Leinster House, organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the Irish Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (IPSA).

On Wednesday evening, a previous ban on pharmacy students receiving payments for internship placements required for their courses was reversed.

The ban on local pharmacies, hospitals, or industry firms paying students on placement had been introduced as part of an overhaul of the pharmacy degree. The course is offered in Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork, and the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

Previously students studied for four years, and then undertook a paid year-long internship in the field. In 2015, a new Master of Pharmacy degree was rolled out, which included a four-month internship component in fourth year, and an eight-month placement in students’ final year.

The changes also led to the third-level colleges charging fees of between €7,500 and €8,500 for the fifth year of the degree.

Pharmacy students rally outside the Dáil to express their anger at unpaid placements and increased fees. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Pharmacy students rally outside the Dáil to express their anger at unpaid placements and increased fees. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Oisín Hassan, USI officer for academic affairs, welcomed the decision to remove the ban.

However, he cautioned paid internships were still only optional, and many students could be left in financial hardship on unpaid placements.

Niamh Loughlin, president of IPSA, was also critical that it was “not mandatory for placements to pay” students.

The increase in final-year fees was still a “major problem” facing pharmacy students, and risked making the career “elitist” , she said.

Ms Loughlin and representatives from the USI were due to meet with Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor on Thursday.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Hassan said student union officials would raise the issue of final-year fees, and seek clarity on the payment of placements.

Darragh O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU), said pharmacists had been opposed to recent changes to ban paid student placements when it was introduced.

“Nobody was calling the IPU and saying isn’t it great we’re going to get some unpaid labour,” he said.

Jess McNamara, a fourth year pharmacy student in UCC, said working on placements unpaid had left students “discouraged and disparaged” about entering the industry.

The USI conducted a survey of fourth year pharmacy students, which found 91 per cent of 135 respondents believed the introduction of higher final year fees was unfair.

Some 111 students of 137 respondents said they had a part-time job during their unpaid placement. More than 60 per cent of respondents said the lack of payment had limited their options when selecting where to undertake their placement.