No free PhDs at U of C

PhD students at the U of C will not see tuition waivers in the near future, according to U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten. The issue of waivers for PhD students, as practiced in some other Canadian universities, was raised in the Mar. 27 General Faculties Council meeting.

“The decision to guarantee a certain level of financial support to graduate students is based on the assumption that a rather large percentage of graduate students will succeed in grant competitions in order to get external support for their studies,” said Weingarten. “In the absence of that, you cannot financially sustain the commitment you made to students. It is the issue of quality that is a fundamental determinant of success.”

The University of British Columbia approved in January 2003 a tuition waiver for full-time PhD students, available this fall, and the University of Toronto has offered waivers and $12,000 in guaranteed funding to PhD students conducting research since 2001.

“We know funding is an issue for students at this level of their studies and this is an incentive to attract and retain the world’s best PhD candidates to campus,” said UBC Vice-President Academic Barry McBride in March. “This is a very competitive environment, and most American universities offer tuition waivers to PhD candidates, and other Canadian universities are moving in this direction too.”

Engineering professor Dr. Marcelo Epstein said at the meeting that tuition relief would help international students overcome the provincially-mandated 100 per cent tuition differential for international students.

“I myself have lost many international students,” said Epstein. “Some of our foreign students have to live on $200 a month.”

Communication and Culture student representative Laura Schultz questioned the effect on the budget of waiving PhD fees in the wake of 6.3 tuition increases approved by the U of C Board of Governors in March.

“Last week, the Board of Governors had to increase fees or face a financial crisis,” she said. “[Considering free tuition] is slightly hypocritical to me when we face this funding situation.”

The University of Calgary Faculty Association President Dr. John Baker stated that tuition waivers for PhD students who agree to teach during their studies have worked well in the past.

“In the ’70s, the Philosophy Department managed to establish a reputation for being an internationally well-known department by providing for students from the British Commonwealth and Europe full fee remission,” said Baker. “When this fee remission system ended at the end of the ’80s, it was a pretty devastating blow on the Philosophy Department’s ability to have international students.”

Concurrent with goals of increasing graduate students from 15 to 20 per cent of the campus population, as envisioned in the University’s Academic Plan, Weingarten said the issue would be studied.

“At the time that goal was established, our ability to provide necessary financial support to the best students out there was a necessary part of the Academic Plan, recognizing that does have an impact on the flow of students across Canada,” said Weingarten. “The U of C, to address this in the Academic Plan, would need to review graduate fees and funding, we would need to have a better understanding of fees and students to meet our goal.”

Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh said the focus should also be on undergraduates.

“We talk about Graduate Students for financial aid, but what do we do about my poor undergraduates?” he asked.

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