- GradCOLA Response to PhD Research Scholarship
Simon Fraser University has announced a $5400 research scholarship for PhD students within the first four years of their program, excluding Master’s students and PhD students beyond their 4th year of studies. We want to make clear that this announcement, while a welcome sign of the administration being forced to shift their budgetary priorities, does not satisfy the demands of the GradCOLA campaign.
These exclusions do not properly support all graduate students. Master’s student funding remains unaddressed and they are also struggling with the same funding crisis made worse by extremely high inflation and costs of housing. PhD students being limited from accessing funding based on their years in the program also fails to acknowledge the reality of the funding crisis: all graduate students are being impacted by the crisis. You can read our concerns and arguments against these exclusions here and take action as directed at the bottom of this email. The funding has not been distributed yet and we can still have an impact if you act now!
INADEQUATE FUNDING LEVELS:
The level of funding provided by these scholarships does not adequately address the funding crisis faced by graduate students. Average funding for graduate students has remained stagnant since the early 2000s and the $5400 scholarships only cover the increased costs of tuition since 2001, it does not cover the increase in costs of living over the past 20 years. $20,000 in funding in 2003 is worth roughly $30,500 today according to the Consumer Price Index. An annual gross income on minimum wage in 2003 was roughly $17,500, in 2023 it is nearly $35,000. The GradCOLA campaign is effectively asking that graduate students receive funding comparable to minimum wage.
A recent study of graduate student financial challenges in Canada has provided recommended funding levels for various universities. Using their method, the recommended funding level for SFU would be $47,266 annually for PhDs and $41,266 for thesis based Master’s. Following strike action, the public universities in California are now providing approximately $35,000 annually for grad student researchers and teachers along with union protection and representation. Other more well funded schools are offering between $40,000 and $47,000 annually. Relatively speaking, GradCOLA funding recommendation can only be seen as very reasonable or the bare minimum.
External reviews of SFU departments have noted graduate students are literally starving. Applications to the GSS’s Emergency Grocery Card Program nearly doubled in the past academic year, from 457 applications in 2021/22 academic year to 865 in 2022/23. The GSS and TSSU are committed to advocating for guaranteed minimum funding for all graduate students at the University. Poverty is unacceptable.
CONTINUE SUPPORTING GRADCOLA:
This funding commitment made by the university is clearly a small and inadequate step in the right direction. But we must emphasize that even this minor step would not have happened without the consistent and constant pressure by graduate students, the GSS and TSSU through the GradCOLA campaign. In fact, at the March 2023 Board of Governors meeting the administration presented a budget without any commitments to new funding for graduate students while being fully aware of the funding crisis. The Board approved the 2023/24 Consolidated Budget subject to the inclusion of further financial support to graduate students being reported to them in June 2023. This was after multiple Board Members expressed the need for the University to increase financial support to graduate students, a GSS submission to the Board about their concerns with the budget proposal, the presentation of an open letter signed by 28 Graduate Chairs from SFU endorsing the GradCOLA Campaign and numerous protests outside of their meetings by the campaign.
University administration has shown it is incapable of proactively meeting this very low bar. So we will continue to need your support, your voices and your presence at protests.