To the Editor:
I note with interest Vice-Principal Bélanger's belief that additional funding for graduate students is needed "urgently" and also that "TAships are pretty thin" ("Rethink research, Bélanger urges," McGill Reporter, Oct. 9).
I wonder what changed his mind over the summer. Back in February 1997, he claimed that graduate students typically earn around $12,000 per year and so should have no difficulty in coping with large increases in additional session and other fees.
I can only speculate that away from the heated Senate debates where "facts" presented are sometimes less than fully researched, he has realized that less than half of graduate students receive any funding at all, and of those that are funded, McGill's remuneration packages are not competitive with other universities in North America.
Bélanger also worries about the high percentage of graduate students that come from McGill. Ignoring the implied slur on McGill's undergraduate programs, one reason may be that McGill does not appear to value its graduate students TAs are given increasing workloads while their union is told that a cut in salary is necessary in order to preserve TA numbers.
At the same time, the 1997-98 McGill Budget sets aside $500,000 to raise academic salaries towards the Canadian average. This is a very worthwhile and necessary aim, however I would remind Vice-Principal Bélanger and his colleagues that the average TA wage in the rest of Canada is in excess of $25/hour. At McGill it is currently around $16/hour and the University's current proposal (after almost 1,300 days of "negotiations") is $10 or $15/hour, depending on classification.
The TA union has fielded many queries from students interested in applying to McGill for graduate studies we encourage them to apply due to the academic quality of the institution, but when they are told of the current and proposed TA salary rates and workloads, McGill ceases to be a viable option. Compared to York University's salary of over $9,000 for 270 hours of TA work, McGill's (proposed) $3,600 for 360 hours per year is not attractive. And as Vice-Principal Bélanger is so fond of reminding us, U.S. universities provide considerably more money for their graduate students.
I have a solution for Vice-Principal Bélanger go to Principal Shapiro and persuade him to raise McGill's salary proposal to one competitive with the rest of Canada. The TA union recognizes McGill's financial constraints and is only asking for a very small increase in existing TA salaries (which have been frozen since 1988). The unfortunate reality of graduate student life in the 1990s is that students go to where they can afford to live that place is no longer McGill.
To the Editor:
I read with interest Eric Smith's recent article on the federal government's decision to create a scholarship fund for post-secondary education ("Tackling student debt," McGill Reporter, Oct. 9) which painted a glowing picture of this initiative. However, I'd like to argue that this move will further limit access to post-secondary education (PSE), and is therefore not the best way to spend taxpayers' money.
First, scholarships are based on merit. Many students who might in fact have the aptitude for, and interest in, post-secondary study do not win top marks in high school or CEGEP. Students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds may have to work part-time or even full-time while attending school obviously their marks will suffer. Don't these students deserve to receive funds to pursue post-secondary study?
Second, scholarships are not guaranteed from year to year. In other words, students cannot depend on winning a scholarship every year and therefore cannot plan out their finances for a three- or four-year period if they cannot depend on stable funding from the government throughout their studies. This system will fuel stress and fear of losing one's scholarship and of having to leave study. Many students will decide that it is not worth the risk, and will therefore not even apply for PSE.
Third, the availability of scholarships will make the idea of increased tuition more politically palatable. Cash-strapped universities will argue that fees should increase because students will be able to pay more for their education given the fact that they can now win scholarships.
Brad Lavigne, Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, in an analysis of the situation for the membership, summarized the situation: "If you are rich and have low academic standing you can go to college and university. If you're middle income, and you're smart, you may be able to go if you can get a scholarship. If you cannot, you can go and incur a large student debt. If you are poor and exceptional in your studies, you can go. But if you are poor and average, just above average or below average you will not be able to go."
In other words, scholarships do not increase access to PSE they erode access. A better way for the federal government to use the taxpayers' money is to invest in PSE through transfer payments to the provinces. It is clear that the money is there; it would be better used to increase access to post-secondary education, rather than to create a more elite system.