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The Union of Students in Ireland has backed a call by a PhD student collective to the Minister for Higher Education, funding agencies and higher education institutions across Ireland, for an urgent increase to postgraduate research stipends.

USI Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs, Waqar Ahmed, has signed an open letter from the newly formed PhDs’ Collective Action Union (PCAU) requesting a meeting between the group’s Acting President and the various PhD funding agencies to discuss how stipends can be brought to a liveable and equitable level.

As USI has stated on numerous occasions, PCAU says the current PhD stipend is insufficient on several accounts and the current cost-of-living crisis and inflation levels have promoted this new action.

The letter, which has almost 500 signatures, states: “The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported an approximate 9.1 per cent inflation of prices in the last year, which means that the current (average) stipend of €18,500 has the same purchasing power as a €17,000 stipend pre-inflation, when current first-year PhD students accepted their roles.”

USI Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs, Waqar Ahmed, said: “USI has campaigned for several years for a much-need increase to stipends for postgraduates – which were cut severely in 2012 – to bring them in line with the Living Wage. This has never been more necessary than in the current times of the cost-of-living crisis and high inflation. Many postgraduates are not being fairly compensated for their teaching and many stipends are currently below the minimum wage. PhDs, and other postgraduate students, play a hugely important role in the advancement of Irish society and the economy and they should not be expected to live on such low rates of pay.

“The announcement from the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science that 400 doctoral students will be recruited through a public-private partnership on a €28,000 annual stipend, without increasing the pay for the 10,000 existing postgraduate research students, would be completely inequitable and unfair. This open letter, which I have signed on behalf of USI, calls for all stipends to be increased to €28,000 in order to address inflation, the housing and cost-of-living crises, and in recognition of the new government valuation on PhD-level research as seen in their most recent PhD funding initiative.”

The open letter goes on to say that that PhD students feel they are not valued, and some have expressed doubts as to the point of continuing when they could get much better-paid jobs in the industry.

Read the full text of the open letter here.