'I've had enough' - Trinity PhD student writes to minister demanding rent subsidy
A Trinity College Dublin (TCD) student has penned a letter to the minister of third level education claiming that PhD students are forgotten in Ireland.
The letter asks for an accommodation subsidy to be provided to students as the maximum stipend of €18,000 per year makes living in Dublin difficult to afford.
Thomas Dinneen (23) told Independent.ie he decided to pen the letter to Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor and TD Damien English after he had “had enough”.
Mr Dinneen receives a stipend of €18,000 per year, but said he works full-time and gets paid less than minimum wage.
"I'm demanding an accommodation subsidy that PhD students can avail of in Dublin to combat the skyrocketing rents and that stipends should be increased in the Dublin area," his letter reads.
“I’ve had enough, it’s an easy fix and an obvious issue, but is totally ignored. I’m in the best case scenario as I get a stipend of €18,000 per year, but most students aren’t as lucky as me,” he explained to Independent.ie.
The Navan native is studying the genetics of autism and says that for PhD students, the study is a full- time job and that the stipend doesn’t take this into account.
“Most STEM PhD students work a 40-hour week but always end up doing extra hours and sometimes weekends due to experiments,” he said.
“When you just take the 40-hour week without the extra hours and compare with our stipends, we are earning less than minimum wage for that work. These hours affect students’ social lives and have serious effects on people's mental health.
“A PhD is work and not study, because you work for your lab or the group you are in. You are essential to their research so if you leave someone needs to be hired to replace you. Your work is not just for yourself but for your group and ultimately the college," he added.
He explained that due to the rent crisis, PhD students should be the recipients of a rent subsidy to alleviate rent costs.
In his opinion, a rent subsidy would help make the lives of students easier in the short term.
“A rent subsidy would be the best idea as well as stipends raised. While I’m lucky to receive €18,000 a year, the majority of people are way below that and are seriously struggling.
He received a response from Minister O'Connor's department stating that PhD students can avail of the SUSI grant, that student accommodation is now included in Rent Pressure Zones and postgraduate stipends, which can stretch up to €24,000 from the Irish Research Council.
Mr Dinneen faced a series of challenges while finding accommodation in Dublin and said commuting from Navan was not an option for him.
“Buses are unreliable and congestion would make me late for work, so I had no choice but to move to Dublin,” he said.
“I have to work to a timetable, attend mandatory meetings with my PhD supervisor, just like any other job.
“All I could find was a tiny single room, and I’m lucky to have somewhere, which is quite depressing,” he said.
After he relocated to Dublin at the start of his studies last year, he took up additional jobs for extra income.
“I ended up working seven days a week and after three months, I was very burnt out,” he said.
“I had extra income and some spare money but I just couldn’t keep it up.”
“PhD students are such a small group and are largely misunderstood in Ireland,” he added.
He said that urgent investment in research is needed in the state.
“The government want a knowledge-based economy but that won't happen if they don't invest in research. Low pay and low supports for PhDs will impact research output and cause serious inequality,” he said