Western is providing $500,000 in funding to help graduate students in response to rising inflation and the lack of affordable housing. Announced at the Feb. 16 Senate meeting, the new funding will create need-based bursaries to be awarded by the university over the next three years with advice and input from the Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) and the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
“We recognize some of our graduate students are experiencing very real financial challenges brought on by rising housing, living and food costs,” said provost and vice-president (academic) Florentine Strzelczyk. “We wanted to address their urgent needs right now.”
Strzelczyk said Western will also augment housing options for graduate and upper-year students with plans expected to go to the Board of Governors for approval in the coming months. A town hall event for graduate students to share their views will take place in the next few weeks.
“We are ecstatic, and I use that word very judiciously because this is the largest financial investment Western has made to SOGS since it was founded in 1963,” SOGS president Danica Facca, BA’16, MA’17, said.
In fall 2022, SOGS surveyed Western graduate students about their experiences regarding housing and food insecurity.
The findings of the survey indicated housing was a primary concern for the respondents. London, like other communities across Canada, is facing high demand but low availability for rental units, creating affordability challenges and forcing some graduate students to make difficult decisions when it comes to budgeting for groceries and other essentials.
The results of the survey prompted SOGS to ask the university for $250,000 in emergency funding over the next five years to cover increased use of their food bank, emergency loan program, health insurance subsidy and other support services.
In response, Western committed twice that amount, $500,000 over three years, instead of five.
“We hope this will address the most urgent and pressing needs of our graduate students and also alleviate some of the pressure currently straining the SOGS operating budget so that their membership fees can be routed to other issues that are important to the graduate student body,” Strzelczyk said.
SOGS represents 6,700 full-time graduate students at Western and the three affiliated university colleges (Brescia, Huron and King’s) including PhD and master’s students.
Graduate student income primarily stems from teaching pay, research fellowships and scholarships or awards. In the 2022 fiscal year, Western directed $102.7 million to graduate student support. Its financial support for master’s and PhD students has kept pace or exceeded the average among U15 peers, fifteen leading Canadian research universities.
The new bursary funding will allow SOGS to stretch its other emergency support programs further, Facca said.
University administration and SOGS executives will meet within a week to iron out details for the bursaries, which will be allocated based on needs and emergencies.