Graduate Students

Updated: Aug 2

Who are graduate students? Graduate students are the lifeblood of universities, responsible for conducting cutting-edge research and assisting with teaching high-quality courses. While graduate students may still be early in their career and focusing on training, their work often exceeds 40 hours a week. Graduate students depend on their stipends to pay tuition (the same price as undergraduate tuition, and often doubled for international students) and other living expenses.

How are graduate students funded? As described in the Toronto Science Policy Network’s COVID-19 Graduate Student Survey, “in professional programs, [graduate] students tend to self-fund their graduate studies through student loans, lines of credit, and various sources of income, with limited institutional or governmental financial support. In contrast, most graduate students enrolled in a research-stream program receive a funding package, which may involve a combination of a basic research stipend, institutional and governmental scholarships or awards, and teaching and research assistantships. Between research disciplines, the value of a stipend can vary widely.”

Why does funding need to be increased? When graduate scholarships and stipends do not cover basic living expenses, students need to take on additional debt to complete graduate degrees. They also need to make hard choices about their lives - for example, graduate students may avoid medical treatments that are not covered by their benefits (including vision and dental work). Low stipends exclude those who have additional caregiving duties or who cannot rely on the financial safety net of family or a partner. This disproportionately affects first-generation, low-income people interested in pursuing advanced degrees. For Canadian innovation to thrive, no one should be prevented from pursuing a Master's or P.hD degree for financial reasons.

Awards for Master's and Ph.D. students (CGS-M/PGS-D) are highly competitive but do not cover rent (1-bedroom apartment) and graduate school tuition (Canada-wide average: $7,472/yr) in most Canadian cities. This figure does not account for the tuition that international graduate students pay (Canada-wide average: $20,120/yr).

While most Canadian graduate students do not hold these awards, they do set the standard for competitive pay in science and engineering fields. Data are available here.

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