The Ottawa Science Policy Network (OSPN) was founded in the summer of 2021 and seeks to advocate for the use of evidence-based decision making at the university and government levels. OSPN remains dedicated to promoting the voices of students in science policy and has been incredibly active in the advocacy for graduate student funding in Canada.
The University of Ottawa is ranked as one of the top universities in all of Canada and attracts graduate students from across Ontario, Canada and hosts a wide variety of international students. The University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors recently established the university fees for the 2022-2023 academic year citing “incidental, ancillary, and administrative fees will increase due to inflation by an average of 2.4%” affecting students who reside outside of Ontario, and international students. These increases are despite an extension of the tuition freeze from the Ontario Government.
To get around this, the university found a loop-hole that allowed them to increase the tuition prices for out-of-province students and international students. This is incredibly concerning as international students already experienced significant challenges over the pandemic. These students already pay the highest tuition, and have limited access to alternate sources (loans, scholarships, etc.) of funding in comparison to domestic students.
In general, there is an abundance of data pointing at the struggles of graduate students during the pandemic. The 2019 TSPN COVID-19 Impact Report identified that graduate students are increasingly concerned about their sources of income and ongoing expenses, including tuition fees, stipends and assistantships. In fact, this report highlighted 68% of students were quickly going through their savings while another 50% of students were concerned that they would not be able to pay for upcoming living expenses.
As Canada enters the post-COVID phase of economic recovery, we have seen the highest inflation rates in 30-years and the cost-of-living disproportionately affecting low-income, minorities, domestic and international students and as well as those living with dependents. In particular, here in Ottawa we have felt this deeply. For example, the price of a one-bedroom apartment has increased to $1,618, up 2.1% since last year. We are stunned by the fact that inflation is a valid reason to increase tuition, however the same rule hasn’t applied for over 20 years for student income and pay.
To address these concerns the OSPN adopted a National Graduate Student Finances Survey with the goal to gain a more holistic, national, understanding of graduate student stipends and broader finances. Our survey results were quite alarming and in response to the University of Ottawa tuition fee increase, we would like to shed some light on the effect their changes will have on students.
Increasing the cost of tuition fees negatively further affects our most vulnerable students, depriving these individuals of financial independence. To compound this issue, most graduate students are paid through a stipend supported by their research supervisors funding budget. While salaries and tuition expenses increase with the cost-of-living in Ontario, student stipends remain fixed and have not significantly changed since 2003.
The average income for research-based graduate students remains on-average, $19,000 for a Master’s student and $21,000 for a PhD student. After paying tuition, the take-home income is less than $12,000 for students. Additionally, as of September 2021, the University of Ottawa has made it difficult to receive an Admission Scholarship drastically reducing the number awarded by each faculty and department. This means that most graduate students at the University of Ottawa are living below the poverty line.
These graduate students are young adults, between the ages of 22 and 30 who care about their futures, planting roots, starting a family and buying a home. While their peers are able to invest in their futures and generate wealth, graduate students are being left behind.
Graduate students at the University of Ottawa deserve better.