Western increases financial and staff support for graduate students

Western is continuing to ramp up support for graduate students hit hard by inflation and rising housing costs, offering additional needs-based funding, tripling its off-campus housing staff and adding new graduate student support services. 

(Western Communications)

A new Graduate Student Affordability Working Group was launched by provost and vice-president (academic) Florentine Strzelczyk in February to understand the financial realities graduate students face and analyze supports provided by Western. A town hall was also held March 1 to hear directly from graduate students. 

“I want to thank those who shared their experiences with us during the town hall. Western deeply values the contributions our graduate students make to our institution. I also want to thank the Society of Graduate Students executive for their advocacy. The Graduate Student Affordability Working Group considered graduate student needs, and we are so pleased we can respond with a comprehensive set of actions to what we have heard.” 

An original commitment to offer $500,000 in bursaries for graduate students in need over the next three years has now been increased to $500,000 in each of the next three years. Minimum guaranteed funding for PhD students will be topped up by $4,000, and international graduate students who are new to Canada will receive a special grant to help with associated transition costs. 

A new staff position in the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will support incoming graduate students – especially international graduate students arriving in Canada – and make it possible to offer one-on-one help to navigate available services, funding and housing supports. 

All students can tap into support from Off-Campus Housing office staff, who review leases at no cost and help students make informed decisions around their off-campus rentals.  

The Off-Campus Housing office has tripled its summer staffing to provide pre-arrival assistance to verify and visit local rental listings on behalf of student renters. This service is available to incoming international students and students who face systemic barriers to housing and is the first of its kind in Canada.  

Transitional on-campus housing for new, arriving graduate students is available from May to mid-August in London Hall at a cost of $850 per month. This includes a private room with a double bed, shared washroom and kitchen, with biweekly cleaning services. 

Planning is underway for new on-campus housing tailored to upper-year undergraduate and graduate students and the conversion of Bayfield Hall into a first-year residence that had been planned over the next two years has been paused. 

A Society of Graduate Students (SOGS) fall 2022 survey showed housing affordability was a key concern among those who responded.  

“The supports coming out of this working group are a testament to the importance of data-driven advocacy efforts and collaboration between SOGS and Western leadership. These results are a culmination of a year’s worth of advocacy work led by this year’s SOGS executive and through the requirements listed in the SOGS housing and food security report,” said SOGS president Danica Facca, BA’16, MA’17. 

Further efforts are underway to redesign the orientation program for international graduate students and help provide clear financial information to prospective and current graduate students. Standardized and specific funding details will be included in all offer letters and an affordability calculator will be available online to gauge the cost of living and studying in London, Ont.