If anyone was in any doubt about just how bad conditions are for PhD students working and studying in Trinity, they’d have had them dispelled – firmly – last week.
At the first meeting of Trinity’s new PhD campaign group – set up to fight for the rights of PhD students – those in attendance spilled a litany of beans. Many PhD students, from various disciplines, recounted working unpaid for Trinity, while others described being trapped in a liminal space – denied basic workers’ rights such as contracts and work certainty, yet unable to avail of many of the supports available to undergraduate students. Some said that their teaching expenses, such as printing costs, weren’t being covered.
The problem that affects all schools, of course, is the widespread dearth of higher education funding.
But while many were in agreement on fundamental issues such as low stipends and the Dublin rent crisis, the 18 demands presented at the meeting reveal the highly multifaceted nature of the challenges faced by the group. For all that its members have in common, it is clear that there are differences in their experiences.
And the group’s aims are as ambitious as they are numerous. For example, the group is calling on the government to abolish special fees for non-EU students, introduce free public transport for all PhD students, and create public pension contributions, to name just a few.
While it is important for any campaign to be inclusive, and the group’s members must create a broad church, they must also bear in mind the fact that it’s far harder to campaign on a multitude of issues than it is on a smaller number.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the group needs fewer demands, not more. How its members reconcile themselves to that is another question.
With low prospects of widespread undergraduate support, the group must avoid having more demands than political clout. After all, PhD students clearly face significant difficulties, and their unjust working conditions will rightly cause outcry if the campaign can successfully catapult the issue into the public eye.