Reform Graduate Student Funding and Financial Support at WesternU
Reform Graduate Student Funding and Financial Support at WesternU
As a graduate student, the beginning of each academic year should be filled with feelings of excitement and renewed energy to undertake the intensity of graduate studies. It should be a time for personal growth, reconciling one’s place in the world and the mark one wants to make. It should be a time where academic success takes centre stage above all else…
…it should be, until it is not.
Since the return to in-person learning during the fall of 2022, graduate student life at WesternU continues to be marked by a health equity crisis, with academic success nowhere near to be found. The Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) has and continues to support staggering amounts of graduate students facing food insecurity, homelessness, and poverty, while they are trying to balance their studies, research, and teaching commitments in the pursuit of academic success.
Health equity is created when individuals have the fair opportunity to reach their fullest health potential and requires reducing unnecessary and avoidable differences that are unfair and unjust. Many causes of health inequities relate to social and environmental factors including: income, social status, race, gender, education, physical ability and environment, among many others.
In light of the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic, historic inflation rates, and stagnant graduate funding packages/stipends, health inequities inclusive of food insecurity, homelessness, and poverty have moved beyond the level of ‘extenuating circumstances’ to one of ‘chronic conditions’ among graduate students at WesternU. While precarity in graduate school is nothing new, with stories of “resiliency” and “sacrifice” circulating regularly among supervisors and faculty as an extension of empathy, graduate students cannot hold onto such battle stories to make ends meet, nor should they indulge such stories when those storytellers are the ones who are in powerful decision-making positions that can change the trajectory of this narrative. We do not need followers who create an echo chamber, but leaders who are playmakers towards progression, growth and plausible change. We need leaders who say, “I’ve gone through this and I’m working to make sure you don’t have to.”
With equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) initiatives and committees abound at WesternU, socioeconomic status continues to be left by the wayside among these conversations, especially as they relate to graduate studies, funding packages, and stipends. Socioeconomic status remains a key driver in achieving health equity and consequently, academic success. So long as health inequities are present, there cannot be academic success, and without academic success, there cannot be transformative graduate learning and research going back out into the world from WesternU. Something has to give.
After witnessing and supporting countless members who needed a place to live, food to eat, or emergency financial aid to see through another week, the SOGS Executive launched a survey from October 31 to November 15 2022 to capture the scale and scope of graduate student food insecurity and homelessness at WesternU to inform advocacy efforts with Western leadership and the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS).
Across 1429 respondents, 44% of graduate students identified as food insecure; 76% of graduate students identified affordability as their main challenge when trying to find housing in London; and 55% indicated they cannot afford essential items (i.e., personal hygiene products, clothing, childcare necessities etc.).
Given the complexity of graduate student experiences across campus, with variability in funding support, program length and research-based scope, a multifaceted approach to reforming graduate student funding and financial support at WesternU must be taken to reflect the diversity of needs. With this in mind, the SOGS Executive has forwarded and continues to discuss the following short- and long- term requests with Western leadership.
Welcome to the drawing board, we need to start somewhere:
MATCHED WESTERNU AND SOGS FINANCIAL SUPPORT: Support incoming graduate students from a variety of programs and funding circumstances by matching contributions to the Society’s community-based subsidies over the next 5 years ($50k per year/$250k total) in order to provide financial support to as many as graduate students as possible across: the SOGS Non-TA Food Bank ($8k annually), SOGS Emergency Loan ($3k annually), Universal Health Insurance Plan Subsidy ($15k annually), the Research Completion Subsidy ($12k annually), and Childcare Subsidy ($12k annually).
INTERNAL NEEDS-BASED SCHOLARSHIPS: Provide targeted need-based scholarships to 1 and 2 year course based Masters students to alleviate financial barriers for equity-deserving students wishing to pursue higher education.
1 YEAR ON-CAMPUS RESIDENCE ACCOMMODATION: Make space available in Bayfield Hall and/or other residence vacancies through short-term on-campus housing options for incoming graduate students that tailors to their needs for affordable and proximal housing without the added immediate pressure of navigating the city of London’s housing market.
ANNUALLY UPDATED GRADUATE FUNDING PACKAGES: Build annual OPI adjustments to graduate stipends to address inflation and launch environment surveys every 3 years to all graduate students at WesternU receiving stipends to assess the quality and cost of living so as to provide competitive funding packages that 1) reflect inflation and the rising cost of living and 2) to attract and retain emerging global scholars domestically and internationally.
‘SAFE ARRIVAL’ INTERNATIONALIZATION GRADUATE STRATEGY: Provide guaranteed interim housing options along with emergency arrival housing bursaries for incoming international students to ensure they have a safe transition from their point of arrival in Canada to when they move into secured housing spaces within the London community.
MULTI-PHASED ON-CAMPUS GRADUATE HOUSING: Accommodate the flux of incoming graduate students by ensuring affordable and accessible long-term on-campus housing options for incoming graduate students.
As budget season heads underway across the university, now is the time to center graduate student funding and financial support in conversations with upper administration. The SOGS Executive would greatly appreciate your support and signature to underscore the importance of reforming graduate funding and financial support at WesternU. This petition will be brought to the attention of the Board of Governors, President, Provost, Vice Provost Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, and Vice-Provost Students to further supplement ongoing advocacy.
We cannot champion EDI at this institution without talking about class; enough with being socially progressive and fiscally conservative.
Let's work together to reform graduate studies to what it should be.
Yours in service,
The SOGS Executive
Danica Facca, President
Kevin Moore, VP Academic
Yousuf Hasan, VP Advocacy
Becky Horst, VP Finance
Kesavi Kanagasabai, VP Student Services