December 18, 2023

GSA Advocacy Recap: Prioritizing Graduate Students’ Welfare

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Advocacy has been at the forefront of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) as the GSA has diligently worked to address pivotal issues impacting graduate students.

The months of November and December saw an array of strategic initiatives and engagements aimed at securing better opportunities and resources for graduate students.

Advo Week, held from November 20 to November 24, 2023, witnessed the GSA’s active participation in CASA’s “Reframing the Future” Advocacy Document. This comprehensive document, accessible on CASA’s website, highlighted seven crucial asks with a specific focus on the Tri-Council funding targeting graduate student support.

The GSA played a pivotal role in ensuring undergraduates and graduates alike were well-informed about these asks, marking the second consecutive year of CASA’s inclusion of grad-specific appeals.

Key outcomes from Advo Week revealed an encouraging response to the Tri-Council funding ask, with significant support garnered. Notably, the realization that scholarship values have stagnated since 2004 elicited widespread shock, emphasizing the urgency for increased financial support for graduate students.

Furthermore, pivotal meetings with influential entities such as the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board showed a notable shift from past hostility towards increased graduate student funding to a more supportive stance—a positive indication for future advocacy endeavors.

Engagements with various stakeholders were crucial. Collaborative meetings with Senator Scott Tannas’ office and discussions with copyright lawyers from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) underscored both the challenges and opportunities in advocating for graduate student interests.

In parallel, efforts to advance policy papers, such as the Investing in Innovators policy paper, demonstrated a strategic approach to consolidating policies and showcasing personal experiences to humanize statistics. The plan to publish joint op-eds to amplify their asks to policymakers and stakeholders in Ottawa highlights the GSA’s proactive approach to advocacy.

Additionally, discussions centred on recruiting more graduate students and exploring avenues to amplify their voices, showcasing a commitment to inclusivity and representation within the GSA’s advocacy efforts.

SRSR Graduate Student Scholarships Report:

A monumental win for our advocacy efforts arrived through the House Standing Committee on Science and Research (SRSR) report, released on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. The report embraced all the recommendations the GSA and CASA relentlessly advocated for which include:

  • Substantial increase in the value and quantity of Tri-Agency scholarships and fellowships
  • Extension of scholarships durations
  • Widening eligibility criteria for international students
  • Call for equity-focused review processes for scholarship allocation.

Our involvement as CASA members was instrumental. Engagements within the Graduate Advisory Council (GAC) and active participation during Advo week were pivotal in shaping policies and presenting the Tri-Council funding request. This collective effort, alongside the unwavering support from CASA and allies, culminated in a monumental achievement for graduate students.

The release of this committee report holds immense significance, pressuring the government to heed these recommendations. While not guaranteeing immediate legislative changes, this report showcases bipartisan support and serves as a formidable tool to keep the government accountable, marking a promising step toward a more robust and inclusive framework for graduate education in Canada.

To dive deeper into the SRSR Graduate Student Scholarships Report, you can access the full document here.

Board of Governors Vote on Tuition and Fee

Shifting focus to the recent Board of Governors’ tuition and fee vote that took place on Friday, December 8, 2023, at the University of Calgary, the GSA President, James Steele, along with other student representatives, ardently advocated against proposed fee hikes. Despite their impassioned appeals, the motion to increase fees was unfortunately passed, raising concerns among the student community.

While the GSA has achieved significant wins in previous advocacy endeavors, such as securing concessions for graduate students regarding tuition increases, challenges persist. These hikes compound existing challenges faced by graduate students, including housing and affordability crises, necessitating sustained efforts to address these issues effectively.

The GSA remains resolute in its commitment to champion the welfare of graduate students. Collaborations with student associations and civil society groups underscore its dedication to emphasizing the value of a well-funded post-secondary education system.

Your support as members of the GSA is invaluable. Updates on ongoing advocacy efforts and opportunities for students to contribute will continue into the new year. The GSA remains steadfast in its pursuit of an accessible and affordable post-secondary education landscape where students’ voices are valued.

In unity, the GSA stands firm, tirelessly advocating for a future where education is accessible to all and where graduate students’ needs are recognized and prioritized.

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