Graduate students and faculty at the University of Saskatchewan have expressed frustration with the university’s payroll system on social media and to the College of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
These students receive payment through the university either for scholarships or their employment as research and teaching assistants. Each year, for numerous students, these payments have been delivered later than the start of the Fall Term when it is expected. For those who depend on these scholarships and wages as a primary source of income, the late deposits affect their ability to sustain themselves.
“The entire system is ludicrous; it keeps students in a cycle of perpetual stress and poverty, which is only compounded by having no income for [six to eight] weeks at the start of each school year,” wrote Jane Martin*, a master’s student at the U of S, in a letter to the Sheaf.
In her letter, Martin explained that she started her master’s in fall 2019 and has since received multiple scholarships, including a Dean’s Scholarship. The Dean’s Scholarship is awarded based on academic excellence and research productivity. Each year since then, Martin was told that biweekly payments would begin Sept. 1.
Martin says the deadline has “never once” been honoured.
In 2019, Martin signed a residential lease not knowing her income would arrive seven weeks late. She could not pay rent for the first two months and was unable to obtain any proof to show her landlord that her payment was delayed.
Martin was still expected to cover all student fees and tuition at the regular September deadline.
“The university did nothing to help and didn’t seem to care how stressful this was that one of their students was about to be homeless because of an administrative error on their end,” Martin said.
In September 2020, when Martin’s scholarship payment was again delayed, she contacted Debby Burshtyn, dean of the CGPS at the U of S, who agreed to work with administrators to resolve the issue.
In a letter to the Sheaf, Burshtyn said that the issue of delayed payments to students through scholarships and employment has been brought forth to the CGPS by “a few students.”
According to Burshtyn, a reason for the payment delays in fall 2021 was that employed graduate students were shifted to a timecard reporting system, which can be affected by delays in the employee’s reporting or in receiving approval from the academic unit. She noted that, this year, the standard late fee for tuition was delayed to Oct. 8 for all students to accommodate issues in transitioning to the new system.
As for students whose payment is issued through scholarship accounts, such as Martin, Burshtyn says that there was a delay this year in opening some of these accounts due to staffing shortages.
“The issue has been flagged and the team providing these financial services to CGPS is working on their process to ensure this … issue is addressed in [the] future,” Burshtyn wrote.
After her scholarship payment was late for the third year this fall, Martin posted about her experience on Twitter. Responses to the tweet from faculty and students expressed similar frustrations with the payroll timelines. One faculty member said that tuition should be due later.
Martin wonders how the late payments continue to occur year after year to multiple students.
“[Why] are [administrators] not notifying students so they can plan accordingly, or at least provide emergency bursaries so we can pay our rent and student fees until payment does finally come through?” Martin said.
Martin says the problem of late payments is exacerbated by the fact that students on the Dean’s Scholarship are limited in their options to supplement their income. Recipients are studying full-time and are expected to “devote as much time as possible and necessary” to their programs, as indicated by the CGPS letter offering Martin her Dean’s Scholarship in 2019.
Martin says she has been offered a Dean’s Scholarship for her PhD program for 2022-2025, but is considering declining.
“Honestly, it is almost better to just work part time, study part time and decline the scholarship altogether so you can at least afford to live,” Martin said.
“The [Dean’s] Scholarship’s mandate is to attract high-calibre students, but they are basically punishing those of us wanting to be academically ambitious [and] financially stable by keeping us in a poverty trap.”
*The interviewee has requested anonymity due to disciplinary warnings they have received from the university after discussing their experiences with payment delays on social media. To respect the privacy of the individual interviewed, their name has been changed.