Support for Canadian Graduate Students on Strike


A Canadian graduate student in philosophy writes in about how graduate students at several institutions are “on strike for a substantive money raise because our funding is incredibly low.”

You can read about the strike at Western University here and here.

The graduate student continues:

Several Canadian universities, including McGill University, York University, and the University of Western Ontario (Western University), are currently experiencing strikes as graduate students advocate for a living wage. The funding packages offered by these universities are insufficient for graduate students to meet their minimal living expenses.

 York University offers a funding package of around 24,000 Canadian dollars (17,200 US dollars), while McGill University provides between 20,000 and 27,000 Canadian dollars (14,000 and 19,400 US dollars). Western University offers approximately 15,000 Canadian dollars (11,000 US dollars) per year, after accounting for tuition fees (Western University does not provide a tuition waiver for PhD students).

Graduate students at the University of Toronto, which is not on strike this year, receive over 27,000 Canadian dollars annually. Despite this, the high cost of living in cities like Toronto and Montreal makes it impossible for students to survive on these funding packages.

Due to the financial strain, many PhD students are compelled to take on part-time jobs, seek financial support from their families, or even take out loans to complete their degrees. These challenges no doubt affect their academic performance and overall well-being.

Students and others at the affected institutions are invited to provide further information and share their thoughts.

 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

15 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Canadian
1 month ago

A small correction. Montreal is not an expensive Canadian city. See below

https://wowa.ca/cost-of-living-canada

In fact, it is quite a cheap city to live in. My nephew lives there (comfortably).
There is an interesting history here. Montreal was the most populous city in Canada until around 1973 or so. The separatist movement led many big companies to relocate their head offices to cities that were likely to remain in Canada if Quebec separated. With these moves, many workers had to move … which created a housing surplus. Relative to the rest of Canada, Montreal is still a cheap place to live.
Monthly cost for a family of three (form the link)
Montreal: $ 3388
London, ON (where Western is): $ 4311
Toronto: $ 4813
Vancouver: $ 5119

Michel
Reply to  Canadian
1 month ago

Montréal has become significantly more expensive in the last five years. It’s still cheaper than most of the rest of Canada, but the reality is that the cost of living there increased much faster in the last few years than it had in the previous many.

Nathan Howard
Nathan Howard
Reply to  Canadian
1 month ago

Montreal was relatively cheap 10, even 5 years ago. But that has stopped being true, in part because rent isn’t a student’s only cost and because plenty of other goods are more expensive in Montreal (and Quebec) than elsewhere. It would not surprise me to learn that the decrepit truism “Montreal is cheap” partly contributes to student worker wage suppression.

another grad
another grad
Reply to  Canadian
1 month ago

Your numbers about Montreal are vastly outdated, especially because of the plague that is housing investment. There is no more housing surplus. As a matter of fact we’re in a housing crisis because there’s more demand than offerings.

So, no, McGill graduate students are absolutely right to demand more. The problem is especially not so much the hourly rate but the number of hours they make as TAs or RAs which are less than your typical part-time job. Because of that the 180 hours you work in a semester at more than 30$/h is equal or less than what a full-time barista would make at minimum wage ($15/h) which makes no sense. They’re not just asking for a pay increase but for more hours too.

See for instance:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/cmhc-report-quebec-housing-crisis-2024-1.7101783

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2023/12/01/these-are-the-most-expensive-cities-in-north-america (article states Montreal became slightly more expensive than Toronto)

https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/rents-are-rising-faster-in-quebec-than-in-the-rest-of-the-country-report-1.6692444

https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Montreal (this page estimates that cost of living is $5k rather than $3k.

Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

One problem the TAs at Western have is that their funding package includes a TAship of 10h/week, or 280h per year for which they are paid a very high hourly wage (about $50/hr), working out to about $14000/year. The rest of their ‘package’ is paid as a stipend, but then they pay about teh same amount of tuition back to the university, so the TAship is effectively the only money they have, and is capped at 280h per year. The university then tells undergraduates and the public that the hourly wage is $50/h and everyone of course starts complaining about ‘overpaid TAs’ without understanding the complexities of the clawback.

Secondly, there are federal and provincial scholarships, worth between $15k-35k per year but they are not paid to the student on top of their stipend. Rather, the university takes the money and uses it to pay them their stipend. They might throw a few extra thousand dollars at a fellowship-winning student, but that’s it.

Charles Bakker
Charles Bakker
Reply to  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

As a PhD candidate at Western, I can say yes to all of this. Also, while it’s true that Canadian healthcare is socialized, I have heard that many grad students at American schools are included in their university’s healthcare plan. So it almost negates the fact that grad students in Canada pay very little in healthcare costs.

Bill Vanderburgh
Reply to  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

Disappointing to hear Western is underpaying TAs so badly. When I TA’d there, I got a tuition waiver and about $1k/month, which was enough to scrape by on back in the 1990s.

Steven
Steven
Reply to  Elizabeth Finneron-Burns
1 month ago

I just want to point out that international students can’t apply for most of the scholarships here in Canada, and the few they can are super competitive—it’s just not enough for all of them. They’re basically forced to finish their degrees in four or five years. Plus, they’re dealing with lots of life challenges, like crazy high rents after the pandemic, and sometimes they have to pay a ton just to get an apartment because they don’t have a Canadian permanent resident or citizen as a guarantor. If this is what we call structural injustice and no one’s directly to blame, then what did these students do to deserve this?

another canadian
another canadian
1 month ago

It’s worth pointing out that the situation in Quebec is much worse than what it looks like. Universities in Quebec often don’t offer funding packages to their graduate students (with the exception of McGill and Concordia). Some universities offer less than $10k for a certain number of years (not even per year!), forcing students to rely on student loans or grants (SSHRC or FRQSC, which are pretty much impossible to guarantee for everyone). There are places where the hourly rate for TAs is around $25-$30/h but they offer small contracts (we’re talking 100 hours or less). Essentially you’d earn a better living as a barista working full time on minimum wage ($15/h), which makes no sense. For some reason Quebec and their French-speaking universities hate graduate students.

ERW
ERW
Reply to  another canadian
1 month ago

I have to second this. McGill used the ridiculously low amount of pay TAs get at francophone univerisites to argue that TAs at McGill did not deserve more. Even at McGill, the wage is slightly over $30 and some contracts are 90h a semester.

Ben Laurence
Ben Laurence
1 month ago

It is ridiculous how low the stipends are for Canadian students living in expensive cities. My jaw dropped when I learned how low it was.

M. Dean
M. Dean
1 month ago

I’m a Canadian who reluctantly left the country for graduate studies because my Canadian offers were not a living wage.

Lisa S
Lisa S
1 month ago

The TA strike at McGill has been settled. The union ratified the tentative agreement on Thursday April 18

Faisal Bhabha
Faisal Bhabha
1 month ago

Minor correction: the minimum stipend at Toronto is $26,000, not $27,000. Perhaps they’re planning to increase it this year, bu they haven’t communicated this to the grad students yet.

ZofStagira
ZofStagira
1 month ago

Montréal is a Canadian city and considered its inclusion in Québec entails it is *also* own nation [1] as First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and others are. To clarify for those *one* of *many* reasons why things are a bit different [2] such as lower prices than expected for the quality of life AND great brunch & food at great prices, anecdotally compared to Toronto, Calgary, and other large canadian cities.

I wish for the best! I don’t expect them to be successful as their comments do not touch on the core issue, that is to share some thoughts from my usernamesake, that which they highlighted [3] which is predicated on what is predicable. The predicable need not be described with contemporary political verbage, coherent arguments can be made which functionally or in practice are effectively the same thing. My prior point is predicated upon Wittgenstein’s *family resemblance* and *language games*.


Footnotes
[1] As of 2006 I believe, here is a [link[↗]](https://www.sqrc.gouv.qc.ca/relations-canadiennes/institutions-constitution/statut-qc/nation-quebecoise-specificite-en.asp). If you’d like the resolution from House of Commons let me know and I can dig that up!

[2] Without going through the history of the Révolution tranquille (transl: Quiet Revolution), Catholicism, etc., canadian encyclopedia [link[↗]](https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/quiet-revolution-plain-language-summary) here

[3] The affects, difficulty living due to a rather gradual and large change in net costs