Increase the UOA Doctoral Stipend

FMHS-PGSA has campaigned tirelessly for an increase to the doctoral stipend. The Marsden Fund, Heart Foundation, and Cancer Society responded to our call with a $5000+ per annum increase, but the University of Auckland refuses to do the same.

What is the issue?

Currently, students on the UOA doctoral scholarship receive $28,800 per year + paid fees. This stipend amount is not enough to support an individual living in Auckland in 2022. The estimated cost of living for an individual living in Auckland at the time of writing in March 2022 is $4405 per month. The stipend provides only half of this amount. Other issues linked to the low stipend amount include:

  • A severe lack of Māori and other marginalised perspectives in the research space, including in the current UOA doctoral cohort. Te Tiriti o Waitangi states that any policy or practice should not prejudicially affect Māori. Given that Māori often do not have the financial privileges of Pākehā, it is unlikely that Māori would view doctoral study as a viable option. Indeed this appears to be the case; Māori are notably underrepresented in the current UOA doctoral cohort. So the cycle continues and Māori continue to be ignored in research outputs.
  • Doctoral students experience higher rates of mental health issues. Globally doctoral students have higher rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms than others. This is no surprise, considering the financial stress borne by many doctoral students.
  • The skills of doctoral students are devalued. To be eligible for a PhD, one must complete an honours degree or masters degree. These are high level qualifications, yet doctoral students are paid an amount that equates to less than minimum wage.
  • Doctoral students are susceptible to abuse. Because doctoral students are paid so little, they are an attractive option to supervisors and staff ahead of a postdoctoral research fellow who may cost more than $80,000 per annum. Doctoral students provide cheap labour, so supervisors may obstruct PhD completion and/or encourage prolonged PhD study unnecessarily. This is not an old wive’s tale, this is the reality for current PhD candidates.


What are the arguments against the stipend increase?

  • The research work students do would not be the sort of work that would ordinarily be done by an employed researcher. The work of PhD students in medical research are published in peer-reviewed academic journals. To suggest that this work is not expected to be on par with professional research would be disingenuous considering the expected research output of PhD students. For example, the authors of this response are all in the process or have published in academic journals.
  • Postgraduate student researchers are inexperienced.  In order to enrol in a PhD, you need to have completed either an Honours degree or a Masters degree. To say that a Masters degree graduate is then worth below the minimum wage severely denigrates the entire research profession. Furthermore, the suggestion that the educational benefits of a PhD justifies paying below minimum wage is absurd. Does this mean no on-the-job learning is expected in any other research role?
  • We can promote equity and diversity in the research workforce whilst paying PhD students below the minimum wage. Any suggestion that we must increase the representation of Māori research staff cannot begin without raising the PhD stipend as that is a current huge bottleneck which disincentivises the entry into the research profession. As the Green Paper has rightly said, Māori researchers are often expected to work a double-shift as a researcher and a “cultural expert”. To alleviate the workloads of these double-shifted Māori academics, we must increase the number of Māori PhD students particularly in areas of national research priority.
  • The allowable 500 hours/year additional work (without paying secondary tax) is a reasonable way to cover other costs and certainly is an earning opportunity that would not be so attractive to a minimum wage workers who would be paying secondary tax on that 500 hours. Despite the fact that this would mean PhD students are expected to work 50 hours per week to make ends meet. Excessive tax (from secondary tax) is paid back to the taxpayer’s bank account at the end of the tax year. This shows a complete lack of understanding from senior University staff.

Further arguments are outlined here.

What have we done?

  • We have sent a petition with >700 signatures to UOA, HRC, MFAT, The Royal Society Te Apārangi (Marsden), MBIE, Heart Foundation, and Cancer Society, The Royal Society Te Apārangi (Marsden), Heart Foundation, and Cancer Society increased their PhD scholarship stipend.
  • We contacted Hon Chris Hipkins (Minister of Education) and Hon Dr Megan Woods (Minister of Research, Science, and Innovation). Both reported it was not their responsibility.
  • We contacted MP David Seymour, MP Chlõe Swarbrick, and MP Paul Goldsmith.
  • We raised the issue at faculty and university wide committee meetings including the Student Consultative Group with the Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater.

What’s next?

  • We continue to raise the issue in university forums and in the wider community. 
  • We are in the process of a new submission to MBIE.
  • We are in the process of a feedback report in response to the Scholarships Review Scheme proposed by Dean of Graduate Studies Caroline Daley.

We will keep you updated with our progress. If you want to support our plight, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Better Postgraduate Support is Our Mission

University of Auckland, Grafton Campus