Dean of graduate studies champions federal support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at Parliament

Steve Hranilovic stands in front of a window in the foreground. Outside in the background is the centre block of Parilament in ottawa.

Universities need more funding to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, dean of graduate studies Steve Hranilovic told a Parliamentary committee.

Additional funding is needed to ensure McMaster and other universities across Canada can support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the current inflationary environment, McMaster’s vice-provost and dean of graduate studies told a House of Commons committee this week.

Steve Hranilovic emphasized that additional funding is also needed for McMaster to remain competitive as a global university that attracts top talent. He travelled to Ottawa on June 15 to address members of the Standing Committee on Science and Research (SRRS).

During a session on the Government of Canada’s Graduate Scholarship and Post-Doctoral Fellowship Programs, Hranilovic shared feedback from the cross-campus consultations held by McMaster’s Task Force on Graduate Funding with the committee, including from the recent town hall, roundtable meetings and submitted online.

“Thus far, those consultations have yielded some key themes including financial hardship — no surprise given today’s inflationary environment — challenges with availability of information, additional barriers faced by international students, and challenges related to provincially imposed PhD timelines,” Hranilovic said.

He reminded committee members that tuition rates in Ontario were rolled back by 10 per cent in 2019 and have been frozen since. In addition, the provincial operating grant has been frozen since 2016 and federal grants for master’s and PhD students have not increased since 2003.

“One starts to see a very depressing picture of the state of postsecondary funding in Canada,” he said.

When asked about the impacts of inflation by Saskatoon-University MP Corey Tochor, Hranilovic said some graduate students have to divide their attention between studying and working.

Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, asked for a strategy to support universities.

“It’s important to start from the reason students enroll in graduate studies, it’s to gain a world-class credential for the rest of their lives,” Hranilovic said. “Graduate students are the engines of innovation and without them, there is no research. It’s essential that we support them as students … and the institution needs to be made sustainable at the same time.”

Earlier in the day, two McMaster instructors also spoke to the committee as individuals. David Novog, engineering physics professor, said he’s most proud of the impact his students are having in his industry and beyond.

“Our goal should be to build an accessible and flexible funding system that can accommodate the diversity in student backgrounds, the increased value of international mobility, and the increased economic pressures from tuition and costs of living,” Novog said.

Saman Sadeghi, associate professor in chemistry and chemical biology, said an increase in stipend will foster equal opportunities and diversity in academia.

Click here for a transcript of Hranilovic’s address. Click here for a transcript of Novog’s address to Parliament.