B.C. university students join walkout calling for grad student funding

UBC grad students joined others nationwide, walking out on Monday to call for more funding from the federal government. As Sarah Chew reports, they say they’re struggling to survive with the rising cost of living.

Hundreds of university students in B.C. participated in a national walkout Monday calling for federal funding for grad students and research.

Demonstrations were scheduled to happen at schools including the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), University of Victoria (UVic), and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC).

Deborah Buszard, interim president and vice-chancellor at UBC, says in a news release she shares the students’ concerns and is also encouraging the government to increase funding for graduate students.

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She adds the university recommended the government increase award amounts of scholarships by 45 per cent, yet there was no mention of funding for graduate students in the recent federal budget.

“We are disappointed that the recent federal budget contains no new funding for Canada’s research granting councils or for graduate students,” the release reads.

“The purpose of the walkout is to demonstrate how integral graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are to research institutions, and to push for a federal increase in funding for graduate students and postdocs through awards, scholarships and fellowships.”

One student union representative says funding has remained stagnant for a long time.

“This is really a national movement that students are undertaking to [voice concerns] about stagnant wages for students in PhDs and researching positions. Wages and salaries for these students hasn’t risen for over 20 years,” Cade Desjarlais, president of the Students’ Union Okanagan of UBC, explained.

He adds these concerns reached a tipping point when there was no mention of federal funding for grad students in the recent federal budget.

“Essentially, the federal government provided stipends to PhD students as well as master’s students and postdoctoral fellows in order to subsidize a part of their research,” he said.

He says it has been about 20 years since the last stipend increase came.

“Since the last increase to those stipends, there’s been over 50 per cent inflation for students. A lot of our postdoctoral fellows, our PhD students and our master’s students are really struggling to make ends meet, struggling to pay bills. So that’s, essentially, what we’re asking for, and what students across Canada are demanding is more money from the federal government to increase the stipends,” he said.

Desjarlais says it is important to help students continue the important work they are doing.

“Students in these upper levels…master’s students, PhD students, and postdoctoral students…they are leading scholars that introduce new findings and find new cures or find new information that needs to be shared,” he said.

-With files from The Canadian Press 

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