In many European countries, PhD salaries are incredibly low if compared with industry salaries. In my field, computer science, a young programmer can gain in one in one year what a PhD student gains during all the PhD. Which are the practical reasons of this?

Some possibilities:

  • Money: university have not enough money to pay higher salaries to PhD students. I don't think this is the cause of the low PhD salaries, as given a budget for a project, the PhD students are hired in function of the budget.

  • PhD is not considered a job. This, in my opinion, is wrong. PhD actually is a full time job, that requires skills that in many cases (for instance in computer science) will be highly paid in the industry. Projects faced during the PhD are often more complex than homologous industrial projects. The real fact is that a PhD student often (but not always) doesn't produce revenues; but this is true also for professors, for people who take care of the cleaning of the university, and for all the staff of a university, that receive a higher salary then PhDs.

  • PhD students are the weakest group of the academia. Nobody, when salaries are decided, says "PhDs should gain more!", because, when salaries are decided, actually they don't have any voice.

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    Supply and demand?
    – ff524
    Jul 25, 2016 at 18:16
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    You should really discuss a location here, as in many places in Europe PhD student salaries are actually quite ok - and I certainly know no place where "a young programmer can gain in one in one year what a PhD student gains during all the PhD". In most places where PhD salaries are low (say, Italy), regular salaries are also bad.
    – xLeitix
    Jul 25, 2016 at 19:04
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    Who do you expect to pay for their work, and why do you expect that those people would pay more than they have to in order to receive the same services?
    – corsiKa
    Jul 25, 2016 at 19:41
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    I don't think you understand university budgets very well if you think that universities (even wealthy ones) could easily dramatically increase their graduate student stipends. It would require a huge amount of money. And in the hard sciences and engineering (which seem from your other questions to be your main interests), graduate student stipends are mostly paid for out of grant money, so universities have even less control over them. Jul 25, 2016 at 19:58
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    The question really needs more focus, as you are asking for a comparison of apples, oranges and even bananas here. There is no thing like a typical PhD salary in Europe, it depends a lot on the country and discipline we are talking about.
    – Daniel
    Jul 25, 2016 at 21:49

6 Answers 6


They aren't that low. For example, here in Finland:

  • a typical salary for a PhD student: 2400–3000 e/month
  • a typical salary in the industry for someone who just got their MSc degree: 3500 e/month.
  • Finnish PhD stipends put French ones to shame. My data point: 1600 gross (1350 take-home which is taxed later in the year) in one of the most expensive cities in the world. But I know that we are already lucky compared to other European countries... Jul 26, 2016 at 8:00

PhD-students are students, advanced students but students none the less. It is a classic form of vocational education: learning on the job. It is a form of long practicum, and they get a stipent or a "wage" that fits that position. When they finish, they will get a diploma.

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    No, this depends a lot on the local system. In Germany, they are called "doctoral researchers" and DFG insists on this term because they are not students. You need a Master's degree to start your PhD and are officially employed at your university according to that degree (with the respective rights and duties). In Austria, the situation is similar.
    – Daniel
    Jul 25, 2016 at 22:09
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    I feel like this beats around the bush. PhD students work an incredibly high-skilled and demanding job and yet are paid much less than they could get in industry. Whether they are technically students or not does not serious address why this discrepancy exists.
    – Kevin
    Jul 26, 2016 at 1:39
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    I really disagree with this thinking. Not all the bells and whistles and fancy paper in the world will change the fact that you are taking an adult in their late 20s, who has a degree and qualifications enough for a pretty good career, and busying him full time for 4-10 years, where his main activity is supposed to be research work, and the small hope of being supported by his parents is destroyed in that he is required to relocate. It's one of those things that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and wears a big hat saying "goose" and gets inexplicably half the salary it should.
    – Superbest
    Jul 26, 2016 at 3:23
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    PhD students work hard, but they are not yet fully capable researchers.I don't mind that PhD students take that much longer and make too many mistakes I need to correct; that is part of the learning experience. Having PhD students is part of my teaching job, which I enjoy greatly, but it is costing me time not saving me time. This attitude safes a lot of frustration with me and the students: What they are doing does not have to be perfect yet. We will make it perfect, and in the process they will learn more about doing research. Jul 26, 2016 at 8:06
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    People in the industry also need years of practice to become fully capable professionals. Junior professionals are far from being independent, but they are still treated as professionals. If someone has published a first-author paper (or equivalent), they are obviously capable of doing research and no longer students. Jul 26, 2016 at 8:43

PhD students are paid in more then just the money they get directly. They're also able to take highly technical classes, have direct access to some of the best minds in their field, get sent to international conferences, and gain free vocational research training. All of this is normally covered by their university.

You could argue that PhDs help produce research and that benefits their school. But learning how to do research is the entire point of the PhD and they benefit from publications as much as their university does, if not more.

The fact that you can get paid enough money to live comfortably on top of all of the these benefits is amazing and, the the best of my knowledge, not found anywhere else. How many places do you know who would pay you to sit around and train for 3-7 years knowing that you will leave as soon as you're decently competent?

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    Which is almost certainly more fun than building CRUD app backends at foocorp, even if less lucrative. Jul 25, 2016 at 19:28
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    I know right? I don't understand what the OP is complaining about -- no one does a PhD for the money. Jul 25, 2016 at 19:28
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    I like this answer. Getting a PhD doesn't seem to pay much, but if you think of it in terms of most of your salary is going immediately back into paying for tuition (which is typically covered), suddenly the amount of money PhD students receive seems to be much larger.
    – Kevin
    Jul 26, 2016 at 1:38
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    @Kevin Tuition fees are rarely that high in Europe. Jul 26, 2016 at 8:51

The disparity in pay in the computer science industry specifically, compared to PhD research, is because there is currently a massive deficit of experienced software developers in the computer science industry.

The higher industry salaries are designed to get qualified candidates and keep them there, to deliver on projects. No developer means no work means no money.

I would wager that PhD students do not play musical chairs. In the industry, turnover is a very real problem.

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    plus one for pointing out that compsci is a bit of an outlier compared to most fields. Jul 25, 2016 at 19:26
  • Do you have numbers for pay in comp sci in some countries?
    – Kimball
    Jul 26, 2016 at 1:36
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    @Kimball only from the US, but I believe Master's in CS would be around $75K to $80K right now as a starting salary.
    – Compass
    Jul 26, 2016 at 2:26

Mainly because it's not just a job. Although I do see it gaining recognition as one: we do produce a lot of an institution's research. You are still in training (even in postdocs), this isn't just hierarchy, it's degree-inflation.

A PhD is also an Education, an investment in your future, arguably increasing your future job prospects:

  • work opportunities abroad (conference, postdocs)

  • greater independence in your work than a less qualified job

  • job security (e.g., tenure-track)

  • potentially higher salary post-PhD (depending on job market)

Our stipend in comparably lower in Aus/NZ than EU but it usually also includes a tuition fees waiver. The contribution of international PhD students at our university is also recognised by only charging domestic fees during the first 3 years, even if they aren't eligible for a stipend.

Think of a PhD on a stipend like a job with lower pay but some perks: a huge emphasis on training, free education, conference opportunities, tax-free income.

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    My main piece of advice to those considering a PhD course is do it while you're early in your career. Some people do fantastic things coming back after experience in industry or education but it's logistically easier to go straight into it from study. A stipend is more income than most undergraduates live on and it's fairly comfortable when that's your standard of living (e.g., renting a flat, public transport). If you've become used to a high income (e.g., mortgaged your own house, had children, or taken personal loans), PhD study (even part-time) can be a lot more financially stressful.
    – Tom Kelly
    Jul 26, 2016 at 2:09

If we compare academia and industry, I think there is a keyword for the big salary differences, responsibility.

I once asked a PhD student, why he did not want to take a better paid industry job and he answered he had nightmares about firemen-work. Like his code would make a big mess in production and he had to clean up. It really depends on what kind of work day you want. A delayed research paper affects nobody but your self, but a bug in a code can delay a whole plant.

And as an MSc in industry, your work has a purpose to make higher values for the company so there is definitely more weights on the shoulders for an industry engineer compared to a PhD student.

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