In 2019-2020 GSS made advocating for affordable education its main priority for the year, taking up various initiatives both at university and the provincial level.
The 2019-20 GSS Student Satisfaction Survey (SSS)
The 2019-2020 GSS survey report showed that for the third year in a row, stipends and scholarships were the area that students wanted the GSS to make their advocacy priority. 54% of graduate students expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of funding they receive, while 80% of respondents indicated they were dissatisfied by their cost of living. The average income earned by a graduate student remains less than $16,800; which is below the poverty line as defined by the Government of British Columbia at $20,000 for a single person, while 13% of graduate students have no source of formal monthly income.
The 2019 GSS Funding Survey and Focus Groups
In order to measure the funding gap, advocate effectively and make appropriate demand to the university and the provincial government, GSS needed to collect more detailed and robust data on funding and affordability related issues.
As graduate students in the research stream and those in course-based programs have different financial concerns, we adapted different approach to tackle the two type of funding requirements. For students in the research stream, we created the 2019 Funding Survey, which was sent to all research-based students. While those in course-based programs were invited to participate in focus groups.
As per the survey, 75% of the graduate student respondents indicates that they have access to funding from their departments, while more than 60% indicated that the funds provided were not enough to meet their basic expenditures. The average amount of guaranteed funding that students receive is around $21,323. Students also mentioned that they were using multiple sources to meet their funding requirements, which included scholarships (38%), RA positions (30%), employment unrelated to the student’s degree (13%), TA positions (13%), employment related to the student’s degree (3.5%), other sources (2.5%).
While students in the course-based programs elaborated that they had limited sources of funding available from their faculty with fewer scholarships, RA and TA positions, in comparison to students in research-based streams. They were also less likely to get access to external funding, while they are ineligible for minimum stipends. The expense distribution between both the streams of graduate students remains the same, however source of funding differs, where course-based students are more likely to seek jobs, even off-campus, which are unrelated to their graduate studies.
In January 2020 the Province introduced changes to the BC Medical Services Plan (MSP). This eliminated MSP fees for Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents but doubled fees for international students. The GSS took a lead in joining forces with other provincial universities in trying to get these changes reversed. An open letter was written and sent to the BC Minister of Health and Minister, expressing the financial hardships of the international students, and how unprecedented increase in fees burdened international students already paying higher tuition fees. The letter was prepared and signed by UBC, SFU, UVic, and ABCS (Alliance of British Columbia Students).
Knockout Interest Campaign
The Society has also been involved in the Knockout Interest Campaign, organised by the British Columbia Federation of Students (BCFS). The campaign calls for the elimination of interest accumulated on the federal portion of student loans to help students cope with the increasing costs of tuition fees. Domestic students carry student loan debt from their undergraduate degrees, which as per a study conducted by BMO in 2013 is around $26,000 per student; while more than 50,0000 Canadians apply for the loan annually. Eliminating the interest on the student loans would help students from low- and middle-income families gain access to equal opportunities and continue specialized education without mental stress and fear of dropping off due to financial reasons.
The society has provided feedback and recommendations to the UBC on fee consultations for several new programs. Our aim through active participation in these consultations is to advocate for graduate students and represent their voice, in order to ensure that all new programs and fee revisions are in align with student’s capacity to pay. The society also ensured that the suggested fees ranged well with other similar programs offered across Canada.
Lobbying at the BC Parliament
Similar to previous years, the GSS ensured representation of UBC graduate students at the BC parliament in Victoria. The VP External represented a number of asks on behalf of graduate students to MLAs and MPs, which included a 2% cap on international student fee increases and provincial need-based grants for domestic students. The GSS advocated in partnership with ABCS (Alliance of British Columbia Students), with a number of other prominent universities from the province.