“Graduate students are the engines of innovation and without them, there is no research.” 

–Dr. Steve Hranilovic, Dean of Graduate Studies, June 2023

In 2022, McMaster University graduate students, faculty, staff, and concerned community members wrote an Open Letter calling on the McMaster University Graduate Council to raise the graduate student funding floor. At the time, the Graduate Council guaranteed all full-time PhD students at McMaster a minimum of just $13,500 per year (the “floor”) above their rate of tuition.  The reported average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton was $1,559 per month, and the minimum funding floor barely covered 8 months of rent. 

We called on the Graduate Council 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 at least $24,000 per year after paying their tuition – which was about the liveable funding level at the time.
  • Index the floor to inflation.

Since then, we’ve been hard at work holding McMaster accountable. 


The Raise the Floor campaign formally launched on July 7, 2022 as a joint effort between CUPE Local 3906, the McMaster Graduate Student Association, and graduate students. In an open letter published and hosted at https://raisethefloor.ca/ we called upon the University 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 at least $24,000 per year after their tuition is paid.
  • Index the floor to inflation.

As the letter circulated, it has collected over 800 individual signatories to date as well as endorsements from:

  • Canadian Federation of Students Ontario
  • Hamilton District Labour Council (HDLC)
  • Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local (HWETL)
  • Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 107
  • OSSTF District 21
  • Hamilton Steelworkers Area Council
  • Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI)
  • Disability Justice Network (DJNO)
  • Workers’ Art and Heritage Centre (WAHC)
  • CUPE 3902

The letter also called for an end to McMaster’s malpractice of including an estimate that the cost of living in Hamilton was approximately $12,500 per year in its Offers of Admission to international students. Many international students had moved to Hamilton on the basis of this misleading claim, which has since been removed from the admission letters. According to Statistics Canada, the low-income cut-off for single-person households in a city the size of Hamilton in 2019 was $21,899. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton was $1,559 per month as of January 2022, which meant the minimum funding floor of $13,500 per year barely covers the cost of just 8 months of housing.

An article published on July 22, 2022 in the CBC interviewed an international student the face reluctance during immigration when “the immigration officer was reluctant to let him into the country or issue his study permit [because]…‘He wasn’t convinced that the amount of money the university gave me was enough to cover my needs.’” A fourth PhD candidate likewise pointed to McMaster’s practice at the time of restricting hours of work at McMaster to 505 hours per year, but even with teaching assistantships in funding packages students often found it “not enough to pay all of your bills.”


Raise the Floor was an active presence at Hamilton’s Labour Day festivities, as well as tabling at McMaster all throughout September to get the word out.


As teaching assistants began a strike on November 18, 2022 – all was quiet on the organizing front, while lively on the picket lines.


In February 2023, The Graduate Council approved the Terms of Reference for the Task Force on Graduate Funding. The Task Force is 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 on graduate funding more inclusive, CUPE 3906 and the Graduate Student Association were both denied membership representatives. 

Prior to the approval of the terms of reference, on Wednesday, February 8th, 2023 members of the McMaster graduate student body attended the McMaster Senate meeting to raise concerns about our university’s graduate funding crisis and lack of student voices on graduate funding committees.

A report on graduate funding that fails to take graduate student’s expenses into account cannot be comprehensive, nor can it produce recommendations that will meet graduate students’ needs. In other words, choosing not to take cost of living into account is a reflection of McMaster’s unwillingness to acknowledge that graduate students deserve liveable funding. Rather than working to understand the financial precarity of graduate students and seeking solutions that meet our needs, McMaster has opted to prioritize its own financial gain over the financial stability of its student researcher

The Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Steve Hranilovic, insisted that it’s his “mission to start a process of engagement with the graduate education community,” yet refused to address the ask for graduate student representation–and therefore, accountability–during data collection. When asked if the funding floor would be raised in time for Fall 2023 term, Steve provided members of the senate with a vague inadequate answer that amounted to “No.” When asked if he believes anyone can survive on $13,500 a year, he declined to answer.

MARCH 2023

On March 1st, 2023 grad students attended Provost Susan Tighe’s State Of Academy address to hear McMaster’s proposed approach to the graduate funding disparity. Some students were outfitted in thematic attire.

This address was a glorified publicity tour, intended to circumvent the question: where is funding for grad students? Following the Provost’s address, which mostly detailed various expenditures and investments made by McMaster in an ironic misalignment with the lack of graduate funding, students attempted to read an open letter, which can be found here. The Provost chose to walk off the stage rather than engage in productive dialogue.

In a statement following this event, RTF stated that students have self-advocated through every forum: from Senate meetings, to Graduate Council, to faculty town halls. McMaster cannot drive economic prosperity by plunging grad students into poverty and debt. When McMaster commits to building a brighter world, we ask: for whom?

MAY 2023

In mid-May 2023, graduate students were invited to participate in various roundtables with the Task Force. Luckily, a few Raise the Floor members were selected to participate. The Task Force heard from 95 participants in small groups over the course of a few days. Discussions were 30 minutes, and asked graduate student participants a set of questions proposed by the Task Force. 

Throughout roundtable discussions, Raise the Floor learned that members of upper administration were unaware of scholarship clawbacks – the University-wide practice of rescinding scholarships when graduate students win prestigious Tri-Council funding (SSHRC, NSERC, CIHR). We were also alarmed to hear that the School of Graduate Studies is moving towards characterizing graduate studies as a part-time commitment starting in Fall 2023 – setting the expectation that graduate funding is a meant to offset costs of living, not cover them. Characterizing graduate studies as part time gives the University an avenue to make the case that graduate student researchers do not need, or deserve, liveable funding. This is an egregious misrepresentation of what graduate research actually requires. 

JUNE 2023

On June 7th, the Task Force on Graduate Funding held a town hall to update the McMaster community on their progress. 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 – a change which only impacts only 7% of PhD students. The funding floor for Masters students remains $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. When pressed, Dr. Hranilovic acknowledged that although the University’s values revolve around students, McMaster’s primary goal is to “operate as an institution in the long run.” Rather than supporting graduate students while the cost of living soars, McMaster is shouldering the burden of inflation onto the backs of graduate students. In other words, McMaster cares about money more than they care about us.

It’s frustrating to be repeatedly told that the University can’t afford to provide graduate students liveable funding while administration brags about the financial health and sustainability of the University. How healthy and sustainable can the University be when so many of its most precarious workers are students who are unable to make ends meet? Of course, McMaster claims that their first strategic priority is inclusive excellence, but superficial gestures towards principles of equity and inclusion fall flat when graduate studies exclude the growing sector of the population who cannot afford it.

When the open letter was written in 2022, the reported average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton was $1,559 per month, and the minimum funding floor barely covered 8 months of rent. 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 of $17,500 per year covers about 9 months of housing. 

Over the last year of work, it has become clear that graduate funding needs full-time support and should be indexed to the cost of living. Reclassifying graduate studies as part-time is an absolutely unconscionable “solution” to inadequate funding and graduate poverty. Instead of meeting their responsibilities to graduate students, McMaster’s reclassification puts the onus on already struggling students to find supplemental work on top of their 40-60 hour weeks students already put in. Meanwhile, the university continues to rely on our research and extract our labour to maintain its “research excellence.” 

Graduate studies is full time and should be characterized as such.  

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.