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UVic walkout pushes for better funding for the sciences

150 students, researchers and faculty took part in a national walkout calling on the federal government to raise scholarship funding

Robyn Bell
May 1, 2023
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UVic walkout pushes for better funding for the sciences

150 students, researchers and faculty took part in a national walkout calling on the federal government to raise scholarship funding

Robyn Bell
May 1, 2023
Robyn Bell / Capital Daily
Robyn Bell / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UVic walkout pushes for better funding for the sciences

150 students, researchers and faculty took part in a national walkout calling on the federal government to raise scholarship funding

Robyn Bell
May 1, 2023
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UVic walkout pushes for better funding for the sciences

“What do we want?” “Money!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”

These were some of the chants heard from UVic’s campus Monday morning when roughly 150 students and faculty staged a walkout to support better funding for graduate students in the sciences. This walkout was part of a nation-wide protest that involved an estimated 45 universities throughout Canada, led by Support Our Science, a grass-roots organization advocating for increased pay for scientific research in Canada.

Since federal scholarships, research grants and fellowships provide the majority of wages for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, student advocates called on the federal government to increase funding for scientific research. However, Chrystia Freeland’s 2023 federal budget plan did not address this issue.

“There were no changes to federal science funding in 2023 and so our walkout is in direct response to that,” Micah Brush, a postdoctoral researcher in the math and statistics department and a co-organizer of the walkout, said. Brush said the lack of funding has caused the sciences to be “left behind” by the government.

Many graduate students struggle to make ends meet while working on their research. According to Emma Atkinson, a PhD candidate in biological sciences and co-organizer of the walkout, many of these students are forced to regularly access food banks or go dumpster diving in Victoria in order to feed themselves.

“I’ve spoken with grad students who have participated in medical trials to make extra cash on the side, or grad students who spend extended periods of time sleeping in their office because they can’t afford rent,” Atkinson said.

One person carried a sign stating “I can’t afford to have teeth,” highlighting the fact that in addition to low wages, postdoctoral researchers at UVic do not receive benefit packages that are included at other universities' student unions.

The key demands that Support Our Science hopes to see as a result of the walkout are:

  • Increase master's scholarships by 50% to match inflation, from $17.5K to $25.9K
  • Increase PhD scholarships by 65%, from $21K to $35K
  • Increase postdoctoral fellowships by 50% from the 2003 funding level, which was $40K

In attendance at the walkout was Kevin Hall, president of UVic, and Lisa Kalynchuk, UVic’s vice-president of research. As former science graduate students, both expressed that the federal government needs to increase funding immediately, with Hall saying that the university “takes this message to the federal government on a monthly basis.” 

“I was a graduate student in the ’90s and the funding levels haven’t changed much, and that’s a tragedy and a disgrace,” Kalynchuk said. “We continue to lobby the government in a number of different ways.”

Atkinson said she hopes Monday’s walkout will finally get federal MPs listening to their demands, saying that some have already reached out to the national branch of Support Our Science to follow up.

“We’ve made a lot of noise and I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Atkinson said. “The fact that grad students haven’t had a raise in 20 years is pretty profound.”

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Robyn Bell
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