Graduates in all disciplines, in the humanities and in engineering, say they are doomed to live below the poverty line. Hundreds of Canadian and Quebec researchers are mobilizing to increase federal master’s and doctoral scholarships, which have been frozen for nearly 20 years.
Quebec’s scientific community is also pushing for an increase in the funds allocated by the three granting agencies of the State of Quebec. The expectations are also immense, a week before the unveiling of the Quebec Research and Innovation Strategy.
“It is a big cry from the heart: graduate students live below the poverty line. The rise in the cost of living is exacerbating the crisis,” summarizes Louis Bernatchez, director of the Institute of Integrative and Systems Biology at Laval University. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Aquatic Resource Genomics and Conservation.
This renowned researcher is one of the instigators of the mobilization of the country’s scientific community, which is challenging the federal government in hopes of freeing up the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) grants. Master’s students in these fields are eligible for $17,500 while doctoral students get $21,000; these amounts have been the same since 2003.
Our sources confirm that federal grants for health and humanities research have also remained at the level of nearly 20 years ago. The research community continues to feel the effects of the austerity measures of the former Harper administration. When they came to power in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s liberals invested heavily in research and innovation, but without improving all the stock markets.
The environment activates
At the time of writing these lines on Thursday, 1,880 researchers, including two Nobel laureates, as well as representatives from the country’s major scientific societies, had signed a petition calling for increased support for students and researchers in science and engineering. More than 1,600 signatures were added between the morning and the end of the afternoon.
These graduate students “address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges related to climate change, plastic pollution, the sustainable use of natural resources, the development of clean technologies, the prevention of future pandemics and the treatment of diseases, just to name a few. name,” the petition argues.
Even after obtaining a PhD, researchers are pulling the devil by the tail: The signatories are also demanding an increase in the number and size of NSERC postdoctoral grants. These scholarships were set at $45,000 in 2015. They were $40,000 since 2003, equivalent to $57,121 in today’s dollars, the petition said.
Women are particularly vulnerable, as they are still often the ones who sacrifice their careers for the birth of a child. Researchers living on a postgraduate mandate do not have social benefits or employment insurance.
The temptation of exodus
The university community has been lobbying the Trudeau government for months to index scholarships for graduate studies. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Science and Research also discusses ways to prevent the exodus of Canadian talent.
The scientific community was disappointed to find that her calls were being ignored in the federal budget tabled last March, says Louis Bernatchez. “There is a great temptation for researchers to go to other countries where working conditions are much more attractive,” he recalls.
In Ottawa, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, denies abandoning graduate researchers.
“Our government has always been unwavering in support of all scientists and researchers. Therefore, Budget 2022 proposes $38.3 million over four years for the federal grant councils to add new Canada Excellence Research Chairs, internationally, in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We will continue to support a vibrant science and research ecosystem that reflects Canada’s strengths and advances Canadian interests,” said Alexander Wellstead, Communications Director to Minister Champagne.
The number of chairs may increase, but the grants awarded to researchers have not changed since 2003, the scientific community has noted. Students have to multiply and cross their fingers the funding applications of different organizations so that they can earn a living with these collected amounts.
Also in Quebec
“You really have to give a boost to recruiting and retaining talent. With these grants, students and researchers are no longer able to meet their needs,” said Jonathan Desroches, president of the Quebec Student Union (UEQ).
Research funding is one of the things he’s followed most diligently in his three years of student activism, and progress is slow on the way. However, he says he found an attentive ear when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Science and Research in Ottawa in April.
In Quebec, the three research funds (in nature and technology, in health, but also in society and culture) need a new impetus: according to the UEQ, one in four students (24%) who receive a grant application receives financial support, compared to 35% five years ago. “The number of grant applications has exploded, which is a good thing, but we are not increasing the number of grants. †