Postgraduate Researchers’ Rights Charter
About the Charter
The Union of Students in Ireland [USI] has developed the Postgraduate Researchers’ Rights Charter with the aim of safeguarding and emphasizing the working rights of postgraduate researchers in Ireland. The 16 points Charter has been approved by the USI Congress in April 2023.
The primary aim of the Postgraduate Researchers’ Rights Charter is to aid in the establishment of an appealing, inclusive, supportive, and sustainable environment for all postgraduate researchers in Ireland. USI’s Charter is aligned with the Salzburg Principles and the European Commission’s Charter for Researchers and a Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers which offers a set of standards addressed to the Member States in order to encourage institutions to start a dialogue on sustainability of researchers’ careers. European Commission takes as its premise that employers or funders of researchers have an overriding obligation to ensure that they meet respective national, regional, or sectoral requirements. Consequently, Ireland must dramatically improve its attractiveness by creating the necessary conditions for more sustainable and appealing careers for PGRs in R&D.
USI believes that in order to achieve its objectives for postgraduate researchers’ reforms, it must work with other organisations that share similar goals. We are thankful to our member organisations, USI PGWG and following organisations/ groups for their endorsement and/or support of the charter:
- European Council for Doctoral Candidates and Junior Researchers (EuroDoc)
- European Students’ Union (ESU)
- Global Student Forum (GSF)
- Irish Council for International Students (ICOS)
- Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation Ireland (PWO)
- University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU)
- University of Limerick Postgraduate Students’ Union (ULPSU)
- The RCSI University of Medicine & Health Sciences Postgraduate Student Union (RCSI PGSU)
- Non-EEA PhD Students Society Ireland
- Fórsa Trade Union
- Students 4 Change (S4C)
Postgraduate Researchers’ Rights Charter
The Postgraduate Researchers’ Rights Charter includes 16 points:
1. EMPLOYEE STATUS FOR ALL POSTGRADUATE RESEARCHERS
Recognize all postgraduate researchers (PhDs and postgraduates doing master by research) engaged in research at Irish higher education and research system as employees with employee status, contracts of employment, and collective bargaining rights under the Irish Law. Contracts should include adequate and equitable social security provisions such as sickness and parental benefits, protective leave, maternity and paternity leave, contract extension under extenuating conditions, and pension rights.
European Charter for Researchers recommends the recognition of researchers as professionals from all levels (e.g., employee, postgraduate student, doctoral candidate, postdoctoral fellow etc.). Irish higher education institutions and organisations have signed and endorsed the Charter but none of them recognizes postgraduate researchers as research professionals. Postgraduate research candidates are working on an equal basis [to other staff] and should therefore also have equal working conditions. Doctoral researchers should be considered junior research and teaching staff who contribute to the creation of new knowledge.
The recognition of PhDs as early-career researchers is also consistent with the EUA Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE)’s Vision for the Future of Doctoral Education in Europe which recommends that “The work of doctoral candidates should be appropriately rewarded.” CSO (Central Statistics Office Ireland) also uses the Frascati Manual 2015 definition of the researchers as ‘professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge. They conduct research and improve or develop concepts, theories, models, techniques instrumentation, software, or operational methods.’ By function, PhD researchers meet the same criteria.
2. MINIMUM LIVING WAGE
Researchers at the postgraduate level should be paid at least a living wage. Annually, living wages should be reviewed while considering the cost of housing and living in each county.
There are stipend inequalities across Ireland. According to the USI postgraduate stipend survey 2022 average stipend rates are €13,850 for universities, €11,067 for IOT/TUs and €9,071 for MA tracking PhD. This is additional to about 18.7% of Postgraduate Research students report being entirely self-funded and those doing postgraduate on a part-time basis. The stipends are as low as €6,000 and as high as €18,500 for IRC/SFI funded PGRs. The findings from postgraduate researchers were also presented to HEA Research and Graduate Education Committee and the NFDE Advisory Group.
There are enormous disparities in various PhD funding programmes in Irish Research System. In 2022, The government announced Innovate for Ireland, a new scheme to attract up to 400 PhD candidates on a stipend of €28,000 per year. This leaves more than 8,000 full-time existing PhD researchers, who are facing a significant stipend gap. In February 2023, The Board of Trinity College Dublin approved stipends of only a small proportion (<15%) of overall internal postgraduate researchers to €25,000. NUI Travelling Doctoral Studentships 2023 announced a stipend of €26,500 per annum. In comparison to Ireland’s highest scholarships awards of €18,500, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Doctoral Researchers receive a monthly living allowance of c. €3,400 (€40,800 per annum), along with other benefits. In 2022, IUA recommended that all PhD stipends to be increased to €24,000.
The IUA 2020 report found €8.9Bn return per annum from 7 Irish Universities from government investment of €1Bn. The return from Irish Universities proves that €65 million additional investment in this case would see a return of €1.9BN to the economy. As per EUA
Council for Doctoral Education, the level of financial support for doctoral researchers is inadequate…. financial worries are recognised as a major source of stress and mental health issues for doctoral candidates. A sustainable allocation and fair distribution of funding is crucial to ensure high-quality doctoral and postgraduate research.
An estimate of additional costs needed for providing living wage (€13.85 per hour and €28,808 per annum) will require DFHERIS to allocate only about 1.67% (€65 million) of their total 2023 budget of 3,888 million. The sustainable investment and allocation of funds for PhD researchers will enable DFHERIS to ‘position Ireland as a Global Innovation Leader, driving an internationally competitive research and development system, creating an innovative enterprise base and building a better society.’
3. RECOGNITION AND PAYMENT OF WORK
- All work allocated to postgraduate researchers should be recognized and compensated fairly in the contract.
- An average working week for postgraduate researchers should not exceed 48 hours, and duties outside of research projects should not exceed 8 hours. This should include time spent on research projects, training, lecturing, tutoring, demonstration, preparation and marking, lab sessions, supervising students, and administrative duties.
- Postgraduate researchers should have the right to decline duties outside of their research projects.
- Postgraduate researchers should receive a statement of their terms of work before registration
4. SUPPORT FOR TEACHING AND WORK
Provide appropriate training, support, resources, and facilities for all postgraduates performing teaching and other work at the institution.
5. ACCESS TO SUITABLE WORK ENVIRONMENT AND RESOURCES
Provide a safe, accessible, and healthy working environment for postgraduate researchers, including appropriate orientation, training, research expenses, dedicated workspace, meeting office, printing services, appropriate research equipment, tools, software, facilities, research travel funds, opportunities, and technical support.
6. APPROPRIATE SUPERVISION
The postgraduate researcher should have access to a qualified primary supervisor and/or secondary supervisor in the relevant research area. Supervision arrangements should clearly define that the proposed supervisor(s) have the time, knowledge, expertise, and commitment to offer appropriate advice and support to their supervisee. A fair policy for change in supervision should also be developed.
7. APPEAL AND GRIEVANCES PROCEDURES
Postgraduate researchers should have access to transparent and independent appeal structures and processes to deal with issues of conflicts and grievances between postgraduate researchers, supervisors, and other bodies within an institution. Higher Education Institutions, Irish Funding agencies and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science should establish institutional and national rules and regulations, and appropriate procedures, possibly in the form of an independent ombudsman to ensure compliance with regulations, and contractual responsibilities and to act as a mediator for any disputes that may arise.
8. AFFORDABLE AND SUITABLE ACCOMMODATION
Postgraduate researchers should have access to affordable, suitable student accommodation. The rent for postgraduate researchers should not exceed one-third of their income. The accommodation should be suitable for postgraduate researchers with families.
9. PGR REPRESENTATION IN DECISION MAKING BODIES
Elected postgraduate representatives should be engaged and appointed to institutional committees, review teams, and working groups on the PGR programmes, policies, regulations, and reforms. Ensure a clear governance and transparency both within HEIs and the HEA in decision-making regarding matters relating to postgraduate researchers.
10. RIGHT TO BE REPRESENTED BY STUDENTS, TEACHING AND TRADE UNION
Postgraduate researchers should have a right to be represented by the teaching union, students’ union, and trade union.
Ensure that postgraduate researchers are not discriminated on any ground including but not limited to gender, age, ethnicity, race, colour, citizenship status, religion or belief, sexual orientation, family and marital status, accessibility requirements, language, locality, and economic condition
12. RIGHTS OF NON-EEA POSTGRADUATE RESEARCHERS
End discrimination against non-EEA postgraduate researchers by implementing reforms that include but are not limited to:
- Abolish the recurrent cost of €300 for the renewal of the Irish Residence Permit (IRP).
- The provision of Hosting Agreement Schemes to non-EU postgraduate researchers.
- Abolish the points-based system for funding agencies’ scholarships based on the applicant’s citizenship.
- Sponsorship and processing fees for visas, Garda vetting, and residence permits should be adequately funded by the HEIs.
- The time spent in postgraduate research by non-EU postgraduate researchers should be counted toward naturalization and residency.
- Provide working rights to the spouses of non-EEA postgraduate researchers.
- Provide access and assistance for healthcare, affordable health insurance, disability benefits, paid maternity, paternity, and sick leave.
- End the unregulated and higher tuition fees for non-EU postgraduate researchers and students.
International education has a major gross impact of €2.38 billion on the Irish economy. However, Ireland’s attraction of international researchers is affected by low remuneration levels, working and immigration conditions etc. There is an urgent need to make reforms on some of the key legislative/ immigration barriers in recruiting and retaining international and non-EU postgraduate researchers in Ireland. USI calls on the government to remove the difference in immigration stamps and hosting status (The Third Country Researchers Directive) between the IRC/SFI/HEIs-funded non-EEA PhD researchers and EU/Marie Curie PhD researchers. This recommendation is aligned with Ireland’s national research strategy Impact 2030 which aims to attract the best students globally to take part in the Irish experience, as well as the Department of Justice’s vision of a safe, fair, and inclusive Ireland. USI has noticed an increase in visa refusals of PhD researchers on insufficient funding grounds despite winning IRC/SFI or HEIs’ scholarships. The duration of residence permits should at the very least match the duration of the course PGRs are enrolled in. The visa issues for non-EU PhDs’ spouses and children due to ambiguities in the Family Reunification policy should be addressed urgently. We also urge reforms on the availability of medical cards for Non-EEA PhD researchers.
13. CAREER DEVELOPMENT PATHWAYS
Abolish precarity in higher education and research. Ensure that postgraduate researchers in higher education and research, including those on part-time programmes, have clear and secure career pathways, resources, and support.
14. EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITIES
Improved access and support for all who wish to pursue postgraduate research and academic positions. This includes increases in funding to disability services to ensure HEIs are compliant with both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Equal Status Act; ensuring compliance with the Athena SWAN charter in all HEIs; restoring funding to HEI health and mental health services to pre-2008 levels and expanding services to allow for universal, free healthcare for all postgraduates.
15. STATE SUPPORT FOR THE COST OF POSTGRADUATE COURSES
Create a national policy to regularize, standardize and cease the cost of postgraduate courses. Irish and international postgraduate researchers and students pursuing taught and research degrees should receive the same financial support and fee criteria.
16. OPEN ACCESS
Provide suitable training, resources, and financial support for conference presentations and open-access publications.
Insufficient Funding & Reputation at Stake
Published in 2021, Higher Education Research and Development Survey revealed that Ireland’s % of GDP spent on research is less than the EU and OECD %. Furthermore, the total researchers (doctoral and research masters student) devoted to research work have only increased from 5,072 in 2008 to 6,143 in 2018.
While Ireland has a long-standing ambition under the Lisbon Agenda and the 2004 R&D Action Plan, to achieve a 2.5% of GNP in respect of Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD), it has consistently fallen short of this target .
At the same time, it is important to recognise that there is insufficient information available about how core funding is distributed, managed, and delivers value-for-money.
Among all the Western European countries, Ireland is the only country where PhD researchers are paid less than the minimum wage, and have no public service status .
PhD Stipend to Living Cost Ratio in Ireland is 0.58, which is one of the lowest in the EU, UK, Canada, Australia, and Singapore etc.
Ireland’s national strategy had been less effective in the attraction of international staff and researchers. This may reflect the fact that the attraction of international faculty including researchers is dependent on a wide range of areas including remuneration levels, university rankings, working and immigration conditions and the cost of living in Ireland. The success of international education in Ireland would be measured by the quality and international reputation of Ireland’s academic offering and Ireland’s research base.
The concern highlighted above is borne out by the fact that Ireland’s country rankings have recently fluctuated in each of three significant international ranking systems as follows:
- Global scientific ranking (GSI) (SFI Annual Report 2018: source InCites); ranking fallen marginally from 10th in 2016 to 12th in 2018,
- Global Innovation Index (GII) 2022: ranking fallen from 10th in 2018 to 23rd place in 2022 .
- European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) 2022 financial support for HE has remained stagnant 2015 .
Ireland MUST Invest More in Higher education Research
A recent review of Ireland’s higher education research system 2021 stressed that HE Research has an important part to play in key nationwide agendas such as Project Ireland 2040 and Future Jobs Ireland. The 2019 Indecon analysis for the IUA calculated that the net premium for a PhD over an undergraduate degree in Ireland is €116,000. A 2022 report on the Review Of International Education Strategy 2016 to 2020 reported that international education has a major gross impact of €2.38 billion on the Irish economy. Indecon has estimated a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.67 in baseline model, indicating that for every €1 of costs associated with international students visiting Ireland, there is €1.67 in benefits.
Internationally, research has been proven to be key to productivity, innovation, and growth. Business investment in knowledge-based capital contributes 20% to 27% of average labour productivity growth, according to a 2013 OECD report. The European Commission reinforces this contribution in its 2017 report citing several studies finding that:
- Two thirds of economic growth from 1995 to 2007 derives from research & innovation.
- Among all investment categories that drive labour productivity growth, including investment in tangible capital, research and innovation accounted for 15% of all productivity gains in the EU in the period between 2000 and 2013.
- An increase in R&D investment of 0.2% of GDP would result in a 1.1% GDP increase).
In Ireland, research activity has equally proven to be central to economic performance. The Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation (DBEI) 2016 Review of Economic and Enterprise Impacts from Public Investment in R&D in Ireland found that R&D activity in agency firms have been driving growth in sales, exports, and value-added from 2003-2014. The 2017 DBEI Review of Capital Expenditure on R,D&I (2000-2016) found that innovation-active firms displayed greater resilience and growth in terms of rates of employment, exports and value-added.
News & Updates
PhD stipend increase falls short of level recommended in Independent National Review of State Supports for PhD Researchers published by Minister Harris, says USI
The €3,000 stipend increase for PhD researchers announced today, while welcomed, does not reach the level recommended in a recent independent report, nor is it a Living Wage, says the Union of Students in Ireland. Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research,...
USI calls for urgent action as review of state supports for PhD researchers falls short of addressing key issues
The first report of the Independent National Review of State Supports for PhD Researchers has disappointed PhD researchers by falling short of addressing the crucial issues they are facing, says the Union of Students in Ireland. USI Vice President for Postgraduate...
The Union of Students in Ireland urges all Senators to support a motion aimed at securing the rights of PhD researchers, including addressing precarious contracts and proving a living wage for all involved in teaching and research in higher education institutions. USI...
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