'Enough is enough': Western graduate students claim they are living in poverty
Preparations are underway for a rally Tuesday at Western University’s UC Hill.
The focus of the rally is the annual income of graduate students.
“This is to bring attention to the university that graduate students are living in poverty,” said Karuna D’Souza, president of PSAC 610, the union which represents teaching assistants (TA’s) and post docs at Western University.
PSAC 610 said it is nearly impossible for its researchers to get by.
“With rising rent costs, and inflation — the highest it’s been in years — how do graduate students survive on the meager income stream from the university?” asked D’Souza.
Kesavi Kanagasabai (left) and Karuna D’Souza make signs ahead of a rally at London, Ont.'s Western University, planned for Tuesday Feb.7, 2023. They are fighting for higher wages for graduate students. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)D’Souza added, “The minimum is $13,000 per year from the university. When you take off the ancillary fees, students who are doing research the university profits from are getting about $1,000 per month to live on in London. Rent in London for a one-bedroom is $1,600 per month.”
Graduate student Kesavi Kanagasabai said she and many of her fellow students need multiple jobs on and off campus to earn enough money.
She recently led a study among grad students which produced some staggering results. 76 per cent of grad students’ report challenges finding housing, 44 per cent identify as food insecure, and 55 per cent couldn’t afford clothing or basic hygiene products.
“That's concerning, because our students should not feel as insecure,” said Kanagasabai, who is vice president of the Society of Graduate Students (SOGS).
“A lot of them have mentioned that they've gone to the food bank as well. About five per cent of our membership — which is about 7,000 students — have already gone to a London food bank. That is very concerning, and we do not want to deplete city resources,” Kanagasabai added.
Western University said it meets regularly with the Society of Graduate Students to discuss and implement ongoing supports.
Graduate students are full-time students and approximately 2,000 are employed on campus as graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) for about 10 hours per week or less (depending on the structure of their funding package),” Vice-Provost of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Linda Miller, told CTV News London in a statement.
“The current hourly pay for GTAs is $47.22 per hour,” she added.
Miller added that the PSAC collective agreement expires on Aug. 31, 2023.
“Hourly rates and hours of work for GTAs will be discussed during the collective bargaining process in the months ahead,” said Miller.
To make their voices heard, PSAC 610 will hold a rally at UC Hill on Tuesday at 11 a.m. They want to make noise and demand action. They claim that students have been “living off credit cards,” and “working multiple jobs while Western U reports millions in excess revenues.”
“We're not asking for much,” said D’Souza. “We are asking just so that we can survive and do our work and do our research and contribute to society like we want to. But we can't do that, if we don't have enough to eat, or we don't have a place to live. How do we do that?”
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