Written answers

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Employment Rights

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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480. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the steps he is taking to address workers’ rights for postgraduate researchers in universities and institutes of technology. [62816/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Postgraduate programmes are comprised of a range of elements designed to further the training and development of students. The core component for the PhD students of their research programmes will always be the advancement of knowledge through original research, and this must remain the primary focus of the activity of postgraduate research students.

In addition to skills related to the research process itself, the National Framework for Doctoral Education recognises the role of doctoral education in developing generic and transferable skills, as an integral objective of the training. As part of this, PhD students may participate in academic support activities to develop generic and transferable skills.

A range of activities can be included under academic support activities, such as taking tutorial groups, demonstrating at practical classes, co-supervising undergraduate projects and student mentoring. Hours may be included that are spent in class preparation, advising, monitoring student projects, and correcting projects, notebooks or essays and will vary according to School/Discipline. This will vary according to the particular school and discipline. Where such activities are performed, they are commonly part of the student’s terms and are considered a valuable activity supporting skills and career development, including for academic positions. PhD students may contribute to academic support activities often at a level of up to five hours per week, in the course of their studies.

The delivery of academic support activities by graduate students in a higher education institution is a matter for the institution concerned reflecting their independent self-governed status. It is important that the allocation and conduct of such work is undertaken in accordance with the objectives of the National Framework for Doctoral Education and the PhD Graduate Skills Statement in enabling the development of key skills and competencies for postgraduate students.

Achieving a greater degree of consistency throughout the system is an ambition of this department. The next National R&I strategy is currently under development and will reflect themes relating to positioning Ireland as a leader in: supporting rewarding careers in research; facilitating a research culture that encourages the flow of talent and ideas across an R&I system that attracts, retains and celebrates diversity of people and careers.

Department officials have been engaging with the Irish Universities Association and Technological Higher Education Association to undertake further examination of issues in relation to academic support activities of PhD students, including looking at international practice, in conjunction with members of the National Advisory Forum for Ireland’s Framework for Doctoral Education.

This collaborative work with my officials, the representative bodies and the doctoral forum is progressing the issue and, building on this, I intend to write to higher education institutions shortly setting out my expectations for progress ahead of the next academic year.


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