UBC raises minimum funding package for PhD students to $22,000

Starting in September 2021, PhD students enrolled at the Vancouver campus are guaranteed to receive a minimum income of $22,000, $4,000 more than this year.

The announcement comes after Senate approved changes to the minimum funding policy earlier in March. The previous policy took effect in September 2018 and put minimum funding at $18,000 per year.

“This sets the floor for funding,” said Julian Dierkes, associate dean of funding at UBC Graduate School. “It’s a minimum. It recognizes all the contributions that PhD students make to the university. Funding is necessary for the excellence they aspire to and we aspire for them.”

The Senate decision also made it possible for the Graduate Council to independently approve changes to minimum funding policy moving forward. The council is made up of university admin, faculty representatives and student representatives.

It’s the responsibility of graduate programs to ensure that their PhD students make at least the minimum funding amount per year. This minimum can be reached through scholarships and grants, but it can also come through work positions such as TAs, graduate technology assistants, research assistants or interns.

And many graduate students will make more than the minimum. The average funding for all full-time PhD students enrolled in 2019/20 was $31,418 according to internal data, Dierkes said.

The Graduate Student Society (GSS) started pushing for an increase to the minimum funding last year. GSS President Kimani Karangu was happy with the changes but hopes for more in the future.

“We need to dignify the life of graduate students and this increase is a step towards that,” said Karangu. “We would have liked more, but we have to start somewhere.”

That said, Karangu also worries that this increase in minimum funding will mean graduate programs cannot afford to accept as many students.

“It sounds like we have won, but is that true for the departments who are now supposed to go and find this money?” said Karangu. “The only immediate action might be to cut the number of students admitted. We do not want to see the number of students admitted going down.”

Dierkes said that the $22,000 amount was chosen specifically because there was space in the overall university budget for this increase. He also said that many programs, for example lab sciences, have minimums higher than the new UBC minimum, so this change won’t make a difference.

However, Dierkes did say that some programs might need to rethink their spending.

“This may require that certain programs reallocate slightly,” said Dierkes. “And reallocate could mean that some programs decide ‘if we take one student fewer, we have plenty of funding.’ We don’t quite know what programs are going to decide.”