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Opinions | “We’re tired of being milked for our money”: What is the cost of pursuing a graduate degree?

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The U of S Graduate House facing Cumberland Ave. photographed on Feb.14, 2020. | Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor

Graduate students at the University of Saskatchewan are upset after the details of a proposed tuition increase were announced at a meeting earlier this month.

This “conversation” between the interim dean of the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Trevor Crowe, and the students was supposed to help “demystify” the newly set rates for domestic and international graduate tuition. Instead, it left many students blindsided.

Currently, domestic graduate students are paying just over $1,500 per semester. The increase would see their tuition rise to over $2,200 per semester by 2025. Meanwhile, international students will experience an even larger increase — seeing their tuition nearly double from just over $2,600 per term to $5,000. 

International students make up around 40 per cent of the graduate student population.

The university says this increase will raise tuition rates to the U15 Research University median and improve financial packages.

“The decision is not based on rankings but rather how we compare to other Canadian
research-intensive universities in the amount of funding we are able to provide to our graduate students,” Crowe said in an email to the Sheaf.

“The tuition and financial support proposal is a way to ensure our students have a great experience and receive financial supports comparable to other members of the U15.”

However, during the demystifying tuition talk, the graduate students were under the impression that increasing tuition and financial aid is needed to help the university’s ranking among the U15. 

As someone who had planned on entering into a masters program after completing my degree, this increase has me questioning if I can afford to further my education. The rationale put forward by the university is not only perplexing, but may have repercussions that will be counterproductive to their goal.

This same sentiment is felt by graduate students from across all disciplines and backgrounds.

Derek Cameron is a masters student in the department of history, and he is angry about the increase and the way it was presented to students. 

“It’s about financial packages and making us look better in the rankings, which for people that go here, the rankings weren’t our biggest concerns. It was the advisors, the person we are working with. So they are caring about a metric that students really don’t find as effective,” Cameron said.

According to Cameron, the 2022-23 academic year is when students may see an increase in their financial packages. 

“So what that means is that people who are in the last couple years are getting the full brunt of the increase while not getting anything out of it,” Cameron said. “And, to be frank, the packages are below the poverty line.”

This forces grad students to look for work outside of their program in order to make ends meet. Cameron believes this causes undue stress on graduate students and can put their degree and research in jeopardy. 

Cameron believes this increase will force students to make difficult choices, which may lead to less students enrolled at the graduate level.

“It’s going to decrease the amount of graduate students that are doing things like TA-ing and helping to provide education at this institution. So it’s going to weaken [graduate] programs and those weak graduate programs are also going to weaken the university,” Cameron said.

Similar concerns were put forward by Mercy Harris, an international student from the United States, who has similar concerns and feels like this increase was unforeseeable. When asked why she chose the U of S to pursue a masters in biology, Harris echoed what Cameron had to say about what makes the campus attractive. 

“I was drawn here because of the research. This research, paired with low tuition and low international differential, made the U of S a favourable place to study,” Harris said.

“I think if you have a school already in the U15 and have good research, to a certain extent, the research speaks for itself. They see low tuition as a disadvantage but I definitely don’t completely understand that viewpoint.”

The work that grad students are doing on campus is a big part of what makes that research successful. If these graduate programs suffer, it is likely the research will suffer from the lack of resources.

It’s uncertain if tuition increases will achieve the administration’s goal, but it is clear that this move will hurt graduate students. 

“Gambling on this intangible administrative goal seems irresponsible given the certain and more tangible impacts on the graduate students the university serves,” Harris said.

Jeffery Zielinski, a PhD student  in the department of physics, feels strongly about the increases.

“I think it’s a little bit ridiculous. It’s an unnecessary increase in tuition for reasons that seem poorly justified. They simply think increasing tuition will get them higher on the U15 list,” Zielinski said.

He believes that the university is ignoring monetary issues that plague grad students, like food insecurity.

“My main issue is that at the same time there are [nearly] $6 million in raises for the 750 staff that make over $125,000 a year already,” Zielinski said, referencing the salary increases that he calculated through information available to the public.

Zielinski said that several of his professors have voiced concerns about the tuition increase, saying it will be detrimental to how many students they can secure. They believe that the tuition increase will result in students not being able to afford their degrees.

Zielinski — who is from Alberta — came to  the U of S because the physics department has the only fusion program in canada. 

“The reason I chose the university was based on the research prestige, the people that were working here and the stability,” Zielinski said. “I certainly didn’t think about it as a Walmart institution because the tuition was too low.”

This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a rebuttal, please email opinions@thesheaf.com.

Erin Matthews/ Opinions Editor

Photo: Victoria Becker/ Photo Editor

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