Grad students at Queen’s University gathered outside of Richardson Hall on Tuesday morning in an attempt to send a clear message to Queen’s administration: it’s time to abolish tuition for grad students.
Student workers, in an effort to demonstrate their dire straits, wrote why they believe tuition should be abolished on ramen packages that they intended to deliver to Principal Patrick Deane.
When they found the doors to Richardson Hall locked, they left the packages of ramen on the doorstep.
The rally was held in solidarity with demonstrations at both Laurier University and Western, with the latter seeing grad students bus in from McMaster to support the cause.
Astrid Hobill, President of Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Local 901, says that funding packages provided by universities place students below the poverty line before even paying tuition.
She says that gets in the way of grad students being able to meaningfully work on their research.
“Abolishing tuition is the only way we can actually get our research done,” Hobill said.
“And it’s the only way to really have the university value our work.”
Grad students at Queen’s have long been pushing for better compensation for their teaching assistant work at the university, with the two sides ending a somewhat lengthy collective agreement dispute almost a year ago.
Hobill says grad student workers still want to see that compensation increased along with tuition being dropped entirely.
While some may consider asking for both to be too much, Hobill says it’s not that simple.
“I would just ask if any of them are paying their employers for the right to work there,” Hobill said.
“Most of our days are spent doing work for the university. We teach for them, we do research that really bolsters the university on an international scale… we are the lifeblood of Queen’s University and we’re having to pay for that privilege in order to do that work.”
Universities often point to facilities usage as the reason for grad students to be paying tuition, helping to contribute to the upkeep and staffing costs.
Hobill said however after the onset of COVID-19 when the majority of facilities were inaccessible, that reasoning no longer held water.
“We really realized that this was just a money grab for them,” Hobill said.
“What they’ve always told us is we are paying access to the facilities.”
Students have become even more concerned about their financial statuses after Principal Patrick Deane lobbied the Ontario government to end the tuition freeze in November 2022.
Grad students invited Deane to a town hall in January to share their concerns about tuition rising, but he declined.
While Hobill says students heard that after Tuesday’s rally, Deane would in fact be open to meeting with them, Queen’s University would not confirm whether that is the case.
The university also elected to not provide any comment on the rally or requests by PSAC 901 and its supporters.
Hobill said the grad students at Queen’s understand it’s not a unique issue to Kingston, but that Queen’s funding packages tend to be lower than other U15 universities while the cost of rent is often comparable or higher in Kingston than in other cities.
She says the lack of affordable housing is the primary issue plaguing grad students along with countless other Canadians, and is an issue PSAC 901 is involved in with other local groups to fight for solutions as Kingston’s rental market has recently hiked at a rate rivaled by few Canadian cities.
With the massive amount of turnover year after year due to students coming and going, landlords are able to increase rent more frequently and by more than they would be permitted to with an existing tenant.
Hobill says the affordable housing, while not the direct responsibility of Queen’s, is something the university could take a stronger stance on.
“Queen’s could definitely be advocating to the city on our behalf because the city listens to Queen’s a lot more than they listen to graduate students,” Hobill said.
The school does offer some below market units to grad students in the John Orr Tower and Ann Clachlan residence, but the amount of available units is nowhere near enough to accommodate every grad student.
Hobill says PSAC 901 will continue to coordinate with grad students at other schools to fight for better and says at the end of the day while Queen’s and other universities need to make changes, the Ontario government needs to step up as well.