Access to PRSI for PhD students raised in the Seanad by Limerick Senator

Senator Maria Byrne

FINE Gael Senator Maria Byrne raised questions in regard to PhD students and their status as a student versus an employee.

Senator Byrne had the opportunity in the Seanad to quiz Minister of State at the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation, and Science, Niall Collins TD, on the matter.

“I understand your Department is currently undertaking a review in regard to PhD students and their status as a student versus an employee because, in many cases, people are lecturing, carrying out research, are working with companies, and are being sponsored by companies. My question is about PhD students and access to PRSI.

“While the PhD students are studying, they are working at the same time. Are they going to have access to PRSI? Perhaps the Minister of State is not in a position to answer today but it is something I wish to highlight because when these PhD students come to retirement age, they must have so many contributions. It is, therefore, very important that we look at this issue,” Senator Byrne opined.

Minister Collins explained that one of the objectives of Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy is to foster a consistent research student experience across research funders, higher education institutions, and research disciplines.

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“These highly talented people, our PhD researchers, and are a vital part of Ireland’s research talent pipeline. As Ireland’s research and innovation system has evolved organically over the past quarter of a century, a variety of practices have naturally developed in how we support PhD researchers,” he said.

“With the launch of Impact 2030, it is now appropriate to consider how we can bring about more consistency in this area. With this in mind, my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Harris, appointed Dr Andrea Johnson and Mr David Cagney to undertake an independent national review of State supports for PhD researchers. This exercise encompasses a wide spectrum of issues ranging from stipend levels to particular issues encountered by PhD researchers coming to Ireland from outside the EU or the European Economic Area, EEA.

“The status of PhD researchers forms part of this spectrum, which is whether PhD researchers should be classified as students, as they are now, or as employees of their host higher education institution.”

Minister Collins went on to advise that the co-chairs have recently submitted their first report and Minister Simon Harris brought this report to Cabinet for information last week.

“Based on the evidence available at this juncture and in recognition of the stakeholder urgency, they have prioritised making recommendations on stipend levels, issues facing those from outside the EU and the EEA, and improving graduate outcomes. I am also pleased to advise that this report will be published on our Department’s website next week.

“Dr Johnson and Mr Cagney have indicated that they need more time to finish some aspects of their work and that the issue the Senator raised will be part of that additional work. The co-chairs have rightly been careful not to make any recommendations without sufficient evidence and analysis of the potential consequences. Once the report is published, they will develop a final review report to consider those outstanding issues which will include the PRSI issue raised by the Senator,” the Minister of State concluded.