Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 30, No.2

September 29, 2005


AT ISSUE: Provost Singer suggests offering free doctorates

By Karen HerlanD

The Sept. 15 issue of Quebec’s premiere newsmagazine, L’Actualité, is a special issue on jobs, and one of its features was on how to stop the brain drain.

Number one in a dozen refreshing ideas is from Concordia Provost Martin Singer, who suggests that Quebec offer doctoral programs tuition-free to domestic and international students. He said that covering those costs would help attract and retain better candidates.

Even Quebec’s longstanding tuition freeze can not compete with universities that provide full funding to doctoral applicants. At least three Canadian universities and many American ones are offering tuition exemptions and guaranteed or top-up funding to all doctoral applicants.

A doctoral program in the humanities currently costs about $1,000 per full-time semester for Quebec students and $3,000 per semester for international students. Canadian students from outside Quebec fall in the middle, at $1,700 per semester.

However, some programs at Concordia have funded their graduate students for years. Doctoral candidates in Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology can expect to receive between $12,000 and $14,000 a year in funding.

The students must find supervisors whose research interests match their own and who are prepared to guarantee funding in the form of grants and teaching/research assistantships. Students who can’t find supervisors willing to make that guarantee are not accepted into the program.

Paul Widden, graduate program director in Biology, said that funding has been available during the 30 years he has been in the department. “You would not be able to find graduate students in the sciences without funding,” he said. “I don’t know how social sciences and the humanities get away without doing so.”

Joanne Beaudoin, administrative director of the School of Graduate Studies (SGS), feels a lack of recruitment fellowships makes attracting top students difficult.

“Without a doubt, you can not attract quality students unless you are competitive in how you fund them. If you want to have an excellent program, you need to attract excellent students. When you have that, excellent teachers will want to come. Excellence attracts excellence.”

Tuition at the University of Toronto is about $6,000 a year at the graduate level. However, incoming PhD students are provided with a minimum of $12,000 in funding in addition to the cost of tuition and fees. This is guaranteed annually through fellowships, awards, grants or assistantships for at least five years.

According to their web site, the University of Toronto was the first Canadian university to enact such a program in 2000. They did it specifically to be competitive with American institutions. Vice-Provost of Graduate Education, Dean Susan Pfeiffer says that the university has had to cap enrollment in most programs and select from a larger number of applicants.

Although the first group of students admitted with full funding has yet to graduate, Pfeiffer is certain that the program is “a great success.” In fact, her only concern is “the minimum funding level is low; we’re looking at it.”

“You also have to consider the cost of living,” said Patricia Verret, manager of graduate awards in the SGS. The U of T’s formula guarantees a flat amount in addition to tuition and fees. Although Toronto is expensive, Montreal is no longer the bargain it once was.

Daniel Salée, principal of Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, warned of potential pitfalls in offering tuition waivers for all doctoral students.

“Universities are public institutions, run on public money,” he said. Keeping tuition higher for out-of-province students compensates for the “loss of human capital” to Quebec when these students return to their home country or province.

If tuition is waived for these students, they should have to stay and contribute their talent and research for a certain period of time.
“You can use endowments and private funds to attract students, but just waiving tuition fees means there’s no guarantee and no social compensation,” Salée said.