Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PhD Fellowship Restrictions to Residents

According to the Nature blog "The Great Beyond", it was announced today that Spain will restrict one of its main PhD fellowship programmes to current Spanish residents. Various countries in Europe have various rules on this. To the best of my knowledge (e.g. application form for IRCHSS here) the Irish programmes are open to non-Irish people who are EU citizens and there was even experimentation with making them available to non-EU citizens, which does not seem to operate anymore. This is something we really need to debate in Ireland and across Europe.

For the Irish case, given that money is being made available to fund PhD students, is it necessarily better that this would go to Irish residents or to EU residents instead of being opened up? If a bright Chinese student wins the competition, doesn't that yield benefits in terms of attracting bright people to Ireland? Ed Glaeser (talking in a general sense rather than specifically about this) argues that the best way for cities to grow is to attract bright people and let them do their thing. Restricting bright people from applying for your PhD funding is not a great way of achieving this. This is particularly serious in Europe compared to America as even the best universities in Europe have far more limitations in the extent to which they can provide their own funding to PhD students compared to US universities.

Related to this, if a bright Irish person gets accepted to a PhD programme abroad and at home, is it necessarily better for the Irish taxpayer if that person takes the home programme due to funding instead of being funded to take the programme abroad, particularly in cases where the programme abroad is better than the home programme? It really is an open question as to whether it would have been better had the 10 years or so of IRCHSS/IRCSET scholars gone away to whereever they would have got accepted, rather than doing their PhD to a large degree in Irish institutions. One model could be for every country to restrict some of its funding to natives but then to allow the natives to go to the best programmes they get accepted to.

A lot of the model now seems to be to retain bright natives and view foreign postgrads as effectively a cost. Does it make as much sense to think about viewing foreign postgrads as something worth subsidising and viewing native students going away as yielding more benefits than if they stayed at home?

Another way of putting this is that it is tempting to think that Spain is effectively free-riding by doing this. But perhaps it is inadvertently doing the opposite and instead pushing the brightest people in the rest of Europe from Spain to other countries.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this a restriction on the free movement of students and professionals that violates EU law?

Kevin Denny said...

A movement to protectionism is not surprising in today's economic climate and is probably regrettable for the usual reasons. You can understand how the Spanish authorities came to this view: the benefits of free trade in graduate students may seem difficult to pin down in the short run compared to getting more of their students into PhD programs- and there is little chance of retaliation.
Whether it is against the law I don't know but there is usually enough wriggle room to get away with it: who is going to take a case?
Irish students applying for post-grad in the UK can get fees covered but not maintenance I think.

Liam Delaney said...

There is some amount of funding for Irish students in the UK but, as you say, rare and largely for fees. Obviously, students who get in to the top 10 US universities seem to be covered and its hard to know how many of the Irish students who stay on IRCHSS or IRCSET would have been competitive for the US funding if they had applied for it.

I'm not a fan of counting the money studies but if you are paying say 16k to pay for the scholarship of a foreign PhD student, pretty much every penny of it is going to go straight back into the Irish economy and likely more in terms of extra money they bring with them. More importantly, we should be trying to get a handle on the non-financial benefits a city like Dublin accrues from having people here. The peer effects from having the brightest people possible over must be non-zero in my view but hard to estimate them. Similarly, the peer effects of people who have been trained outside of Ireland coming back are worth quantifying.

For a small country with weak data, you are going to struggle to put precise estimates. If I had to bet money on it, I would go for a strategy that tries to attract people over even if it meant some displacement and a strategy that funded people to go out even if some didn't come back.