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May 9, 2002 Graduate students need more financial support



by Elysia Pitt

Research may be on the rise at Concordia, but funding of graduate students is still too low. University statistics indicate that there is less than $300 of internal funding available per student.

It is a concern that Claude Bédard, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, is all too familiar with. Since his appointment in 1997, Bédard has worked hard to ensure that adequate funding is available to Concordia graduate students.

“It’s an area in which we have a long way to go,” he said, adding that compared to other Canadian comprehensive universities, Concordia is below average.

Internal funds on the rise

But progress is being made. In the past five years, internal funds designated for graduate student support have increased significantly: from about $750,000 to about $1,000,000 for the 2001-2002 academic year.

When this amount is averaged over the approximately 3,975 graduate students who study at Concordia, it means just $250 per student, although Bédard pointed out that this money is not the only support available. Funds are also there for students through teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and external grants and scholarships.

How much support do graduate students require? Georgios Vatistas, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Research for the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Sciences, conducted his own informal study to determine just that.

He found that international students sharing living quarters require about $18,000 per year to live reasonably. While Canadian students will pay only about one-third of the $28,000 international students shell out in tuition and fees for a four-year PhD, Vatistas argued that comparable funding is needed.

“My goal is to make sure that our students have enough to live comfortably, so that they don’t have to think about anything except their research,” Vatistas said.

Nisha Sajnani, VP external of the Graduate Students Association, said that enough funding is an “important factor contributing to student success.” The success of these students is important to Concordia because “graduate students are the driving force in research.”

The academic success of Concordia’s graduate students is key for Dean Bédard as well. “Concordia wants to make a stand for itself in the world as a place of academic excellence,” Bédard said. To do that, the university needs to fight for the best students. “We just don’t have the means to come up with a financial offer that barely resembles what the older, research-intensive institutions have.”

Vatistas agreed that Concordia must be competitive. The Faculty of Engineering and Computer Sciences holds from 40 to 45 per cent of Concordia’s graduate students in any given year.

“You have to decide who you want to compare yourself with,” Bédard said. “If you want to have vibrant graduate programs, they depend largely on the quality of graduate students you are likely to attract.” And that takes money.

Bédard pointed to the Capital Campaign as an example of a way to raise internal funding for graduate students. During that campaign, a $3-million endowment was raised for graduate financing. However, it was still disappointing, since the campaign had originally aimed to bring $10 million into the graduate student pot.

“Concordia is fairly young in terms of gathering significant sums of money for students,” Bédard said. He firmly believes that internal funding aimed at graduate students will continue to increase.

“It’s an unending story,” he concluded. “There is always more that needs to be done.”