Archive for PhD studentships

PhD Stipends in Ireland

Posted in Education, Maynooth with tags , on July 29, 2022 by telescoper

Some time ago I posted an item about the planned introduction of a higher PhD stipend (€28K) for a small number of research students in Ireland. It being obvious that he current level of PhD stipends (e.g. €18.5K per annum for IRC-funded studentships) being far too low, my main comment on that was that if that level is a fair level for a PhD then all PhD students should get it.

Now there’s an open letter going around signed by over 400 PhD students arguing for an uplift in their stipends. I support this wholeheartedly. I’m surprised there aren’t even more signatories than that, actually, but I think they have now opened it up again and let others sign it who didn’t know about it. I encourage all PhD students reading this to sign it

With inflation rampant at over 9%, even the IRC level of stipend is difficult for a student to live on (especially in the Greater Dublin area) yet many receive even less than that. Maynooth University, for example, funds many of its PhD students at the paltry level of €10K per annum. This is completely impossible to live on and it forces recipients to undertake large amounts of tutoring or other work (including bar work and retail) in order to get by financially. In my opinion stipends paid at this level are simply exploitative. I have argued repeatedly, but without success, for these to be scrapped.

The deliberate impoverishment of PhD students exists in order to force them to undertake extensive and poorly paid teaching duties because there aren’t enough teaching faculty to cover what is required. That situation is a direct result of the chronic underfunding of higher education in Ireland. Universities will argue that they don’t have any choice, but that doesn’t make the situation is acceptable.

Third level institutions don’t care. If they did they’d do something about it. Maynooth University ran up a surplus of €13.2M during the first year of the pandemic largely by exploiting unpaid overtime by lecturers and tutors, the latter predominantly PhD students. It could be used to provide emergency relief for PhD students but I bet it won’t be. In fact has anyone working at Maynooth received anything at all in return for generating this surplus?

It is of course good for a research student to get some teaching experience during their PhD but this should be on a voluntary basis. A PhD student who chooses to teach will probably do a better job than one who is forced to do it in order to pay the rent. My basic point, though, is that a full-time research student should be funded to do research full time, and it is grossly unfair to pay them too little for this to be possible.

Budget: 1000 New PhD STEM Studentships

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , on March 9, 2017 by telescoper

I was out of the office all day yesterday at a very interesting meeting at the Institute of Physics, so I wasn’t able to listen to the 2017 Budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the way home by train, however, I caught up with some of the content and reaction via Twitter and various news outlets.

One thing of particular relevance to those of us who work in STEM subjects was the following announcement (from the BBC website):

  • £300m to support 1,000 new PhD places and fellowships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects

There’s a bit more detail about this here:

He also confirmed that the Industrial Strategy Fund will be managed by Innovate UK in its first year of existence, and will be administered by UK Research and Innovation from 2018-19.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is part of the National Productivity Investment Fund. As trailed earlier in the week, a further £90m from the NPIF will be spent on an additional 1,000 PhD places in areas aligned with the government’s industrial strategy. Around 85 per cent of these places will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, and 40 per cent will focus on strengthening industry-academia collaboration.

Also under the NPIF, a total of £160m will be spent on new fellowships for early and mid-career researchers in areas aligned with the industrial strategy.

The NPIF will also include spending of £50m over the next four years on fellowship programmes to attract researchers from overseas.

So these studentships will be funded from the “extra money” for science and research announced in the Autumn Statement last year and it looks like they will be focussed on industrial applications rather than “pure” science.

The number 1000 seems a lot, but it has to be seen in perspective. Each year the Science and Technology Facilities Council funds about 100 PhD studentships in Astronomy, and a similar number in Particle Physics. Far more Physics PhDs are funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which looks after the rest of physics as well as engineering and the rest of the physical sciences. Then there are the life sciences, medical research and all the other disciplines which are larger still. In 2014 the total number of students starting a PhD in STEM disciplines in England alone was about 6600. Not all these were funded by the UK research councils, of course, but that gives you some idea of the scale. The extra places this year are a significant boost, but don’t represent a huge increase across the board. They may have a real impact in specific areas, of course, depending on where they are targetted. Note also that the recent large growth in PhD places in the UK has largely been driven by access to EU funding programmes, which we are determined to throw away.

I don’t know how these studentships will be allocated, though I suspect they will be administered through the existing Research Council channels. However, if they are to be filled from October 2017 this will have to be decided quickly, as this year’s recruitment cycle is well under way.

On the other hand, rumours of extra money for PhD students in STEM subjects have been circulating for some time so I think this has been known about behind the scenes long enough to make preparations. I suspect it has all been under wraps until yesterday for political reasons, i.e. to allow the Chancellor to include it in his speech. I imagine things will now move pretty quickly and we’ll know quite soon where the studentships will be allocated.

It’s also worth noting that the money for studentships will be spread over 4 years, which means that this increase is effectively just for one cohort of students (a PhD typically taking 3-4 years to complete). We don’t know whether this level will be maintained in future to compensate for loss of EU funds.

Extra investment in STEM subjects is to be welcomed, but I do wonder about the wisdom of increasing PhD student numbers still further. As I have stated before, I think we already produce far too many PhDs. I think this money might be better spent increasing the number of Masters graduates or improving funding for STEM undergraduate programmes.