The new Irish Research Council’s (IRC) online application system for postgraduate funding has seen numerous complaints from applicants, who saw their work repeatedly deleted and made inaccessible to them. This is the first year the IRC has existed as a united body, with the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) merged in March of last year.
A UCD PhD student spoke to the University Observer of the problems experienced with the new system, noting that the centralised application created increased demand on the system and difficulties for students who would have once only applied for one grant or the other. The main problem experienced was the repeated deleting of nearly completed sections of the application. “When you’re filling out the online form, you can save drafts of the pages as you go along. However if you leave any section of that page empty and you try to save the draft, instead of saving what you have on that page it deletes everything you’ve put in. I lost about two hours of worth work one day because of that.”
Another UCD student had similar trouble, stating: “If you entered something in certain fields, it couldn’t be changed, a design flaw which had the capacity to completely screw up your application. I know one international student who entered the wrong continent as place of residence, and was unable to change it, thus possibly invalidating their application… This, as you can imagine, caused a lot of panic in applicants, and it really is insufficient for a government system.”
There were also issues with the system recognising registered supervisors, with the application unable to proceed without it. “It wouldn’t let me put in information from my supervisor. Every time I tried to put in their information it claimed that they weren’t on the system, despite the fact that they had actually registered with them three weeks before. I’m not the only person this happened to, I was talking to other PhD students and they said they had the same difficulty. You had supervisors for people having to ring up three or four times to make sure they were on the system.”
One student concluded that: “It seems the IRC are actively trying to dissuade people from applying. Every step was made as difficult as it could possibly be. You need three different references of up to 1,500 words; it seems to me this is just in the hope that an applicant won’t be able to convince busy researchers to write it, so there will be one less application to worry about.”
UCDSU Postgraduate Officer, Mark Stokes, condemned the IRC merger. “I think the decision to merge the IRCHSS and the IRCSET was one that will in time be reversed. Even when they merged, there was a strong emphasis on the traditions of both bodies being maintained and their institutional memories being maintained. The recognition that a centralised body is not always the best way to to streamline is there, the Government just need to be willing to reverse a wrong decision. Teething problems are to be expected, but this decision and the problems that seem to be occurring would in many ways stem from the new structure not being a workable one or one that is best for the role.”
The Irish Research Council refused to comment on the situation, stating that “in the midst of a live call, we cannot comment.”