To: David Farrar, President CC: Susan L. Tighe, Provost and Vice-President; Steve Hranilovic, Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies; McMaster Board of Governors
Research Excellence Means Supporting Your Researchers: It’s Time to Raise the Floor.
In July of 2022, Raise the Floor published a letter alongside CUPE 3906 and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) calling on McMaster to meaningfully improve graduate funding as the cost of living in Hamilton reached historic highs. Inadequate funding has left many McMaster graduate students struggling to make ends meet, living off of credit cards, student loans, and help from friends and family while the University reports hundreds of millions of dollars in “excess revenues.” As recently as 2021, McMaster was estimating the cost of living in Hamilton at $12,500 per year in its Offers of Admission to International Students, grossly misleading students.
Over a year later, the McMaster administration has failed to make good on student demands. According to Statistics Canada, the low-income cut-off for single-person households in a city the size of Hamilton in 2021 was $22,801. In June 2023, McMaster announced that the annual funding “floor” would be raised from $13,500 to $17,500 for in-time graduate PhD students (that is, PhDs in their first through fourth year). Not only is this new “floor” still under the poverty line, but as of July 2023, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton has climbed to $1,870 per month – which means that the new minimum funding floor only covers about 9 months of housing.
McMaster’s new strategy is re-characterizing graduate funding as “partial” support. Alongside lifting restrictions on hours of work for already strained graduate students to clear the way for juggling more jobs and assignments, McMaster is fundamentally disregarding the reality of graduate studies as a full-time obligation. We cannot allow the University – as an institution, employer, and now landlord – to renounce its responsibility of supporting its student researchers.
It is time to end the practice of maintaining a precarious funding environment for graduate students. We call on the administration at McMaster University to meaningfully increase funding for graduate students to meet the rising cost of living. This practice has resulted in significant funding inequities among graduate students, with Master Students and International Students made particularly vulnerable.
The University claims it is “devoted to the cultivation of human potential,” however, it has yet to demonstrate a commitment to academic excellence and “Creating a Brighter World” when its graduate researchers and future leaders are forced into a manufactured precarity. The average Ph.D. student is taking well over 5 years to finish their program precisely because the current level of minimum funding is so insufficient, or they are otherwise forced to interrupt their studies in order to seek funding. If the University wants to retain top-tier graduate students, it must commit to raising the graduate funding floor and embrace the responsibility of supporting its student researchers.
What about the Task Force on Graduate Funding?
The Task Force on Graduate Funding was struck in February of 2023, intended to collect and review data and create a comprehensive report on sources of graduate funding to provide recommendations to the Graduate Council by the end of 2023. Despite our calls to make the task force more inclusive of graduate student voices, CUPE 3906 and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) were both denied membership representatives.
On June 7th, Chair Dr. Steve Hranilovic announced that the Graduate Council had approved the Task Force’s recommendation to raise the floor of funding for PhD students from $13,500 to $17,500. We are alarmed and frustrated by a change impacting only 7% of PhD students. The funding floor for Masters students remains at $0.
During the Q&A session following the town hall, students and faculty from across the University made it clear that $17,500 does not meet the rising cost of living or the University’s obligations to graduate students.
By the end of this year, the Task Force on Graduate Funding will deliver a set of recommendations to the Graduate Council that do not take our expenses into account. The collected data set guiding the Task Force also does not include funding information about International Students or discrepancies in funding opportunities between departments (e.g. industry partnerships).
We maintain that any report on graduate funding that fails to take the cost of living and the International Student experience into account cannot produce recommendations that will meet graduate students’ needs. Specifically, International Students depend on a truthful and accurate report on the cost of living in Hamilton in order to decide whether or not it is feasible for them to move to Hamilton with their funding package.
We Get the Message, Loud and Clear!
While we are required to be full-time students to receive our scholarships, the University does not believe that they have an obligation to provide us with liveable funding. Rather than fund its researchers, in some cases, McMaster is exploring changing the structure and standards of Ph.D. programs to expedite degree completion.
It’s frustrating that McMaster continues to refuse to provide graduate students with liveable funding while the administration brags about the financial health and sustainability of the University. Graduate students drive research and innovation. But, when we are forced to work multiple jobs and struggle to afford groceries, our research is forced to take a backseat. Suppressing graduate funding levels shouldn’t be a part of McMaster’s budget models to remain financially stable.
We call on the Task Force on Sources of Graduate Funding and the Graduate Council at large to:
- Extend the funding floor to cover all full-time graduate students at McMaster, including Master’s students.
- Raise the floor so that all full-time graduate students are guaranteed funding that is equivalent to Hamilton’s livable-wage salary (~$28,364 in 2022 after subtracting tuition).
- Index the floor and tuition to inflation.
It’s time to raise the floor with integrity; graduate students deserve better.
What Can I Do?
Full-time graduate students at McMaster need your help. We need to come together as a community—whether you’re a student, a member of the faculty, or university staff—and call on McMaster’s Graduate Council to Raise the Floor! Please read and add your name to our open letter.