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Education Specialist, works as educational counselors addressing a variety of student challenges.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Student Or Employee: What Is Better For PhD Candidates ?

Recently, it was announced that Queen Mary University of London is planning to modify the status of their PhD students and identify them as employees. However, this has resulted in some confusion and concern among both students and educators. Let's take a look....

Is being a student better?

Most of the current students at the university are now getting concerned regarding how this decision will affect their pay. Presently, the stipends of these students are exempt from tax. As a result their acceptable but not excessive income can be easily compared to the salaries of other graduates. If the students lose out on their student status then it will surely mean a cut in their earnings via taxation or may be through an offsetting rise increase in their funding. Hence, training for PhD student will become much more costly and sponsors and funding units will be able to facilitate lower number of PhD candidates. This is surely not a favourable outcome.

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Tom Livermore, PhD Student at University College London, said “While I recognise that there are advantages associated with employment, I believe that remaining a student provides significant benefits of its own and better reflects the training element of a doctorate.”

How it will affect PhDs :

However, Queen Mary University of London, along with Eurodoc, which represents European PhD candidates, believe that shifting the status of students to employees would help in improving recognition of the contribution made to research by PhD students.

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Livermore added “Perhaps I have been fortunate, but I don’t feel that my status as a student affects either the recognition or treatment that I receive. I do not feel that being a student discourages me from contributing to the scientific debate in my lab, my department or at conferences.”
“The benefits of remaining a student outweigh those associated with employment. If by becoming employees we risk reducing access to PhD training through fewer available places, visa restrictions or simply putting off those not destined for academia, then I fail to see the advantage,” he said.

Is being an employee more beneficial?

However, the fact remains that there are two sides of a coin and while some are worried about the changing status, others believe that it will be truly a beneficial move for current PhDs. Many experts believe that pursuing a PhD in a broad sense gives the feeling of being employed, but only until things are going right. Although current PhD students tend to work throughout the day for 4 years on a specific and fixed salary, they do not get any added benefits like pensions, sick leave or even maternity/paternity leave.

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Jamie Gallagher, postdoc and public engagement officer at the University of Glasgow, said “I spent four years working over 40 hours a week in a lab. I turned up every day, I wrote papers, I did experiments, I had duties and responsibilities – except I wasn’t “working” I was “studying”. That distinction is significant. I took home £1,150 a month, about the same as an administrative assistant, but I didn’t pay tax. In exchange for not paying tax on the few thousand earned above the tax free income allowance I handed over my employment rights.”

He concluded by saying “If a PhD student can write papers, present their data and work alongside academic staff, it is time to acknowledge their work as work.”

What do you think about PhD students getting recognised as employees? Share your views and opinions with us by commenting below.

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