Addressed to Federal Government, Provincial Governments, Canada’s Research Funding Councils, and University senior administrators:

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to graduate students across the country. We recognize the steps taken by both the federal and provincial governments, and post-secondary institutions, to protect not just graduate students, but all students, faculty, and staff. These measures include the six-month suspension of student loan repayment and the expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs program. These measures are important steps towards redressing the financial burden on students. However, we would like to emphasize that graduate students are facing additional challenges that have not been addressed.

We, the undersigned, want to draw your attention to these unique issues that graduate students are facing as the result of the ongoing crisis, and ask that Federal Government, Provincial Governments, Canada’s Research Funding Councils, and University senior administrators take immediate actions to address these issues.

  1. Tuition waiver for graduate students

For many graduate students, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted access to resources that may be essential to progress through their academic/research requirements. Despite this lack of access to academic resources, many institutions are still requiring graduate students to pay spring/summer tuition fees. At the same time, graduate students who typically work to financially support themselves have lost job opportunities or are facing great uncertainty with respect to their summer jobs (including teaching assistantships, research assistantships, Contract Instructor positions, among others) in light of this pandemic. Additionally, many graduate students will not benefit from the expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs program, which excludes international students and students over 30 – both highly represented demographics in graduate studies across the country.

In the face of this unparalleled economic hardship, it is imperative that graduate students are not made financially responsible for facilities, services, resources and supervisions that they have limited to no access to. As such, we ask all Canadian universities to effectively waive all spring and summer tuition fees for graduate students who have to remain registered in their program during these unprecedented and challenging times. We ask the federal and provincial governments to work with post-secondary institutions to subsidize the waiver of spring/summer 2020 tuition fees for graduate students through increased public funding.

  1. Academic progression and time to completion extension

Research activities are significantly affected by the mandated physical-distancing directives. This includes the inability to perform laboratory and fieldwork (including in-person research data collection via interviews), limited access to resources (e.g., library, full access to online software/platforms off-campus), and connecting with international networks due to the travel restrictions. Furthermore, during this time, graduate students have restricted access to supervisors and committees, both of which are essential for the continuation and completion of their studies. Moreover, many graduate students are active carers for dependents or have now become the key source of childcare in their households. They may no longer have the time or uninterrupted space available in the coming months to dedicate to their academic work. These new realities will most likely require a lengthening of project timelines. We ask Canadian universities to grant an extension to the time of completion for all graduate students.

  1. Extension to scholarships by Tri-council and other funding agencies

The expectation of progressing through the academic requirements well, while dealing with the stress and worry about timely completion of academic work during this crisis is counterproductive. Such expectations compromise the health and wellbeing of people dependent on these sources of income. We ask that Tri-Council and other funding agencies extend current scholarships and fellowships while guaranteeing researchers’ current incomes. Doing so demonstrates material support and positively contributes to crisis-management for graduate students during these difficult and uncertain times.

To mitigate this situation in fairness and care, we ask Canada’s Tri-councils (the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC); the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC); and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and universities to provide fully-funded extensions to scholarships for all graduate students disadvantaged by the current crisis. We have a duty of care to all who work within the sector to prioritise individual wellbeing above all.

Taking immediate and necessary measures to respond to the needs of graduate students is a responsible fulfilment of academia’s ultimate purpose.

Helyeh Doutaghi

Chairperson of the National Graduate Causes

Canadian Federation of Students

Jina Kum

Chairperson of the Ontario Graduate Caucus

Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario

Brock University Graduate Students’ AssociationUniversity of New Brunswick Graduate Student Association

University of Saskatchewan Graduate Students’ Association

York University Graduate Students’ Association

Graduates Students’ Union of Memorial University

Carleton University Graduate Students’ Association

Society of Graduate Students Executive at Western University

University of Prince Edward Island Graduate Student Association

Graduate Students Association des étudiant.e.s diplômé.e.s (GSAÉD) Université d’Ottawa / University of Ottawa

Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students

Lakehead University Student Union

The Graduate Students Association of Laurentian University

Nipissing University Student Union

PSAC Local 60550 at University of New Brunswick. Union of Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Workers

Local 4600 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 4600) at Carleton University

Local 4207 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 4207) at Brock University. Union of Instructors, Teaching Assistants, Lab Demonstrators, Course Coordinators, Marker-Graders, ESL Coordinators, ESL Instructors.

Teaching Assistants’ Union of Memorial University of Newfoundland

PSAC 610 Teaching Assistants’ and Postdoctoral Associates’ Union at Western University

CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) Ontario

PSAC (Public Service Alliance of Canada) Ontario

PSAC Local 40004 – Union of Graduate and Postdoctoral Workers of the University of Saskatchewan

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL)

University of Guelph Graduate Students’ Association Executive

Society of Graduate and Professional Students at Queen’s University

Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union

International Students Working Group at Queens University

CUPE 3903 Executive Committee, Representing Contract Faculty, Teaching Assistants, Graduate Assistants, and Part-Time Librarians and Archivists at York University

Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA)

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF)