Kelowna university research students take part in walkout calling for liveable wage

Research students want raise

University science students all across the country walked out of their academic institutions this week to demand increased federal investments in scholarships, fellowships, and grants in order to support increased pay for graduate students and researchers.

In Kelowna, a small gathering of students and faculty members came together at UBC Okanagan to join the Support Our Science movement, echoing the thousands more that were spread across the country.

UBCO PhD candidate Siobhan Darlington tells Castanet that federal funding and annual wages for science students has remained the same for more than 20 years, leaving these full-time researchers making far less than a livable wage.

“The tuition amounts have risen exponentially since 20 years ago and the cost of living is far more than it was 20 years ago. So for the most part, students are living far below the poverty line. That’s why people were marching [this week] all across the country," said Darlington.

"With inflation and tuition going up every year and cost of living going up, students are becoming more and more poor because universities will use those amounts as a benchmark."

Master's students currently receive $17,500/yr. and PhD students receive $21,000/yr. Postdoctoral fellows, who have completed their doctoral degree, receive $45,000/yr.

According to Darlington, a large portion of this static funding goes towards paying tuition, which is also increasing annually. That leaves these full-time researchers making even less.

“It’s full-time work for students, often with overtime, and they’re getting paid way less than the provincial minimum wage," she said.

“Burnout is a huge issue. When you’re not being funded adequately by your employer or university, you have to find jobs, you have to work other contracts on top of your full-time job as a researcher. It’s extra work to still not be making enough money," continued Darlington.

Darlington says it’s not financially possible for most students to pursue graduate school in the sciences and that the county's top researchers and brightest minds are going to start going to other countries to study.

The Support Our Science Movement is calling for a livable wage for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Organizers want federal scholarships to increase from $21,000 to $35,000, a living wage.

The group has the support of South Okanagan - West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings, a biologist by trade, who wrote a public letter to the federal government on the subject last year.

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