The Irish Federation of University teachers (IFUT) has expressed concerns that PhD students and postdoctoral researchers may be forced to drop out of their contracts if their grants are not extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A number of grant funders have committed to providing no-cost extensions to research projects that have fallen behind schedule due to the closure of universities, but they have not committed to extending funding for these projects.
Furthermore, PhD students and postdoctoral researchers are not eligible for the emergency unemployment benefit paid by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, nor are they entitled to avail of the workplace subsidy scheme.
Speaking to The University Times, John Walsh, Trinity’s IFUT representative, said the problem is a “sectoral issue rather than a college issue” and that it is one of IFUT’s biggest concerns at the moment.
“Research projects could fall because there’s no way research projects can be completed without the researchers who do essential work on them”, Walsh said. “So what IFUT is calling for is for the workplace subsidy scheme to be applied to postdoctoral researchers and externally funded researchers across the third level sector.”
He said an alternative would be for the Department of Education “simply to provide funding to extend the grants. Either would work, but if they don’t do that there’s a serious threat to jobs for those staff, and also to the stipends of research students, to the grants that are currently held by research students”.
“If a PhD student can’t complete on time and gets an extension – which in fairness the college will give – they’ll get an extension, but the funding won’t be extended, so that can impact on research students’ ability to complete, and it could cause people to drop out if their grant isn’t extended and they can’t afford to stay on the PhD register.”
“That’s a really urgent issue”, Walsh said. “The Department of Education and Skills has completely failed to address it.”
He added that “there’s a high level of indifference at best in the Department of Education towards third-level education so it requires a lot of pressure”.