FAQ: York’s New Fellowship Funding Model

York rolled out its new fellowship funding model in September 2016. The implementation of this model was marked with misinformation and changing details. The following Frequently Asked Questions shares the most up-to-date information. If you have other questions about the funding model you would like answered, or have come across information not included here, don’t hesitate to contact cupe3903comms@gmail.com.

 

What is the York Fellowship funding model?

In September 2016, York implemented a new funding model that could replace the work component of your funding package with a fellowship that covers the cost of tuition. The fellowship should have no work attached to it.

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How does my funding work under this new model?

While individual funding is now separated into four scenarios based on degree (Master’s or PhD) and student status (domestic or international), it is also subdivided based on the kind of work assignment you do and any scholarships and RAships you may get. Here are some facts that apply across the board:

  • Funding is composed of salary from the work assignment (including Grant-in-Aid and vacation pay), Graduate Financial Assistance (GFA), the fellowship, and the tuition offset (for international students who entered their program on or after 2013 only).
  • Every student currently enrolled in a graduate program at York should have received an email outlining how much funding they are guaranteed in total. The standard amounts are $10,000 for domestic Master’s students, $19,256 for international Master’s students, $22,722 for domestic PhD students, and $33,803 for international PhD students. If you were previously offered a higher amount, however, York must honour that agreement.
  • Small scholarships and the York Graduate Scholarship (YGS) are in addition to this funding. At this time, York has not defined what constitutes a small scholarship.
  • Large scholarships, including matched-funds bursaries, will be clawed back to fulfill the fellowship portion of your funding.
  • RAships “may” be clawed back to fulfill the fellowship portion of your funding.

The three tables below set out how typical funding would be disbursed for three standard scenarios: Master’s students with a GAship, Master’s students with a TAship, and PhD students with a TAship.

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Master’s students (with a GAship)

Fall (Sept. 1-Dec. 31) Winter (Jan. 1-Apr. 30) Summer (May 1-Aug. 31)
0.5 GAship (135 hours of work)
$3466.50 wages + $1819 grant-in-aid = $5285.50
Note: this is a minimum amount for a GA, though you could be assigned more.For example, a 0.75 GA = $7928.25
You should receive your GA pay in equal monthly instalments on the 25th of each month.
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $3333
International Students: $6418
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $3333
International Students: $6418
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $3333
International Students: $6418
International Tuition Offset**
$7543
GFA
Domestic Students
MA 1: $708 | MA 2: $888
International Students
MA 1: $1085 | MA 2: $1295
GFA
Domestic Students
MA 1: $708 | MA 2: $888
International Students
MA 1: $1085 | MA 2: $1295
Summer Funding
$3000

*Calculated as fellowship amount divided by three. This fellowship amount may or may not include clawbacks from other sources such as scholarships or RAships. York has always claimed that any GA funding would always be in addition to the fellowship model. However, if your fellowship was cut because you received a GA, please email cupe3903comms@gmail.com.
**The offset applies to international students paying tuition fees over the 2012 levels only.

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Master’s students (with a TAship)

 

Fall (Sept. 1-Dec. 31) Winter (Jan. 1-Apr. 30) Summer (May 1-Aug. 31)
1.0 TAship (270 hours of work)
$11,218 wages + $3705 grant-in-aid = $14,923
Note: you may be assigned less than a full (1.0) TAship, in which case your funding would be prorated down. For example, a 0.5 TA = $7461.50
You should receive your TA pay in equal monthly instalments on the 25th of each month.
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801**
International Students: $2822
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801**
International Students: $2822
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801**
International Students: $2822
International Tuition Offset***
$7543
GFA
Domestic Students: $649
International Students: $1085
GFA
Domestic Students: $649
International Students: $1085
GFA
Domestic Students: $649
International Students: $1085

*Calculated as fellowship amount divided by three. This fellowship amount may or may not include clawbacks from other sources such as scholarships or RAships.
**Domestic Masters students who get a TAship will have their fellowship slashed from $10,000 to $5,403. York has not provided a valid reason for this.
***The offset applies to international students paying tuition fees over the 2012 levels only.

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PhD students (with a TAship)

 

Fall (Sept. 1-Dec. 31) Winter (Jan. 1-Apr. 30) Summer (May 1-Aug. 31)
1.0 TAship (270 hours of work)
$11,218 wages + $3705 grant-in-aid = $14,923
Note: you may be assigned less than a full (1.0) TAship, in which case your funding would be prorated down. For example, a 0.5 TA = $7461.50
You should receive your TA pay in equal monthly instalments on the 25th of each month.
Note: if you have a major scholarship of $15,000 or more, York may give you only a half (0.5) TA instead of a 1.0 TA
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801*
International Students: $2822
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801*
International Students: $2822
Fellowship*
Domestic Students: $1801*
International Students: $2822
International Tuition Offset**
2013-14 cohort: $628
2014-15 and later cohorts: $6,709
GFA
Domestic Students
PhD 1-2: $649 | PhD 3+: $814
International Students
PhD 1-2: $1085|PhD 3+: $1295
GFA
Domestic Students
PhD 1-2: $649 | PhD 3+: $814
International Students
PhD 1-2: $1085|PhD 3+: $1295
GFA
Domestic Students
PhD 1-2: $649 | PhD 3+: $814
International Students
PhD 1-2: $1085|PhD 3+: $1295

*Calculated as fellowship amount divided by three. This fellowship amount may or may not include clawbacks from other sources such as scholarships or RAships.
**The offset applies to international students paying tuition fees over the 2012 levels only.

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What if I have a scholarship?

Small scholarships like the York Graduate Scholarship (YGS) are in addition to your funding. Large scholarships, such as the Tri-Council awards, Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS), Trillium Scholarship, and other matched-funds scholarships do get counted towards your fellowship amount. Where there is a matched-funds portion to your scholarship, the fellowship is reduced by that amount.

For example, the matched-funds portion of an OGS is $5000. A domestic PhD student’s fellowship is $5403. Therefore, a domestic PhD student with an OGS will receive $403 as their fellowship (or $134/semester).

On November 25 2016, York claimed that a comprehensive list of scholarships and what portions are matched-funds would be available shortly. We await this already tardy list patiently.

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What if I get a research assistantship (RA)?

In contradiction with previous communications, York is claiming that no RA funds will be clawed back into the fellowship. This means these funds are all additional income. However, they refused to commit to maintaining this policy, and it is not protected by any agreements.

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What if my minimum guaranteed funding (i.e. from the funding letter) is higher than the common scenarios?

The minimum guaranteed funding you were promised in your offer letter is binding. Furthermore, you should receive more than your letter stated with every passing year because of negotiated salary increases. If your department is trying tell you that this new funding model reduces your guaranteed funding in any way, please get in touch.

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Why aren’t I getting paid in the summer (for Unit 1)?

The Unit 1 Collective Agreement guarantees a set amount ($5384 in 2016-17) for members of Unit 1 in the Priority Pool (i.e. PhD students who have held at least one and no more than five TAships). This amount has historically been disbursed in the summer unless the member specifically requested it be disbursed in another term. In fact, the language of the Collective Agreement clearly states that this funding should “normally” be paid out in the summer. York has unilaterally decided that “normally” can mean “never” and rolled the minimum guarantee into the fellowship amount used to cover your tuition.

This means that, despite York’s spin that money to cover tuition is to students’ advantage, this reorganization of your funding has two serious consequences: members of Unit 1 can no longer choose how to manage their money, and will receive no funding in the summer unless they have a rare summer TAship or other sources of funding.

A policy grievance contesting this decision was filed in December 2016. Despite the grievance timelines set out in our collective agreements, the employer did not meet with the union to discuss the grievance until June 2017. These blatant delay tactics mean that this grievance hasn’t been pushed to the next step (arbitration). More importantly, it means that summer funding is something we will need to win in bargaining.

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What happens to my funding if I take on a summer or additional TA?

In the past, summer TAs (or taking on an extra 0.5 TA in the F/W) were considered to meet the summer minimum guarantee. As York is now claiming that it does not owe Unit 1 any money in the summer, they have assured us that taking on a 0.5 TA in the summer or F/W would constitute additional funding.

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How long does my funding last?

Masters students are funded throughout the length of their program, which is indicated on their offer letters. Typically, Masters programs run 3, 5, or 6 semesters.

PhD students who are in the priority pool, i.e. who have held a full or partial TAship as a Masters or PhD student, are entitled to up to a full TAship for six years. This is guaranteed in the Unit 1 collective agreement and is true regardless of any time limits stated in offer letters or pushed by your program. Therefore, while the emails explaining the fellowship model stated that students are entitled to the fellowship for five years, the vast majority of PhD students will in fact be funded for five years and two semesters (there is no guaranteed funding for the summer of the sixth year).

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So I don’t have to work for my funding? Why is this a bad thing?

This is blatant union-busting, made to keep as many people out of the union as possible. This affects you because of all the benefits, funds, and collective agreement protections you are entitled to as a member of the union, which goes beyond what graduate students who aren’t employed by the university receive.

As a union member, you have access to the following:

  • Sunlife health plan
  • Extended Health Benefits fund
  • Ways and Means (emergency) fund
  • Professional Development Fund (for conferences etc.)
  • Childcare Fund/childcare subsidies
  • Trans Fund
  • Sexual Assault Survivors Fund
  • Various bursaries
  • Tuition Costs Fund
  • UHIP Fund
  • Funding extensions for students with disabilities
  • …And more

Find out more about these funds and others for which you may be eligible at https://3903.cupe.ca/resources/benefits/.

Perhaps most importantly, as an employee, the union can defend you when York violates the collective agreement. We saw over the last year that York has no problems with raising tuition despite a tuition freeze and failing to pay members for their work. The union also protects you from discrimination and harassment. The union can guarantee what rates people are paid and what benefits they receive. The fellowship is simply a promise from York which they can choose to change or reduce at any time. There will be no body that has the legal standing to challenge York should they mismanage or renege on the commitments they make regarding the fellowship model.

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What happens to my health benefits coverage if I lose my work?

The health benefits you get as an employee of York University only apply to those students who hold unionized positions. Students who are not employees get health coverage through the York University Graduate Student Association (YUGSA). Students need to pay into this plan, with additional fees for spouses and dependents, in order to get coverage which is inferior to that provided by the union. CUPE 3903’s health plan is paid for in full for you, your spouse, and your dependents as part of your work contract. Find out more about the CUPE 3903 Health Benefits Plan.

York says that it will provide $1000 for health care costs to students who have insurance through the fellowship model. International students will also get $600 towards the cost of the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP)

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I’m a student with disabilities — what happens to me?

Students with disabilities are especially hard hit by these changes. Sometimes PhD students with disabilities are offered GAs as part of their accommodation plan, and getting these accommodations is increasingly difficult as more GAs are eliminated. When the union asked the employer what they were going to do about these students, they did not answer. Students with disabilities who do not receive a contract will lose their funding extensions and have to rely on the inadequate health benefits outlined above. There is no doubt that this policy is ableist and discriminatory, carefully selecting the kind of people York believes should and should not be enabled to undertake graduate studies.

If you need help negotiating a disabilities workplace accommodation, get in touch with Sheila Wilmot, the CUPE 3903 Equity Officer, at cupe3903.equity.officer@gmail.com or 416-736-5154 ext. 3.

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What does this mean for Unit 3 (graduate assistants)?

York administrators have said they will replace paid unionized labour with “work-study positions, student volunteers, credit-based work, or other”. In 2016, almost 700 unionized jobs were eliminated, decimating Unit 3 by around 90%. This is clearly meant to weaken the union by drastically reducing its membership, and it will put former members in a precarious position. York is doing this union-busting on the backs of the graduate students who depend on that work and the benefits it guarantees. York cannot simply further exploit students by turning this labour into volunteer work or degrade students’ education by shifting this necessary labour into credit-based work.

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Does this affect Unit 1 (teaching assistants)?

There are numerous direct and indirect ways in which this affects all graduate students, and not only the Masters students who tend to hold the vast majority of GAs. While current PhD students are protected by the priority pool language (i.e. if you have held a TAship before, York must continue offering you one until your funding runs out), there is no guarantee that new PhD students would continue to be offered TAs. Holding TAs during the PhD is an important part of preparing graduates for teaching positions, both within and outside academia.

Additionally, GAs don’t only do research. They organize conferences and other academic events that benefit all of us as graduate students, as well as helping the administrative running of our graduate programs. For graduate programs and graduate events to continue running without GAs, graduate students will unavoidably be asked to take on yet more volunteer work.

Furthermore, members of Unit 1 are now in a more precarious financial situation following York’s decision to shift summer funding into the Fellowship (see Why aren’t I getting paid in the summer (for Unit 1)? above.

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Doesn’t the fellowship model allow us to earn more money by accepting more work?

While York is suggesting that this will benefit students by allowing them to hold fellowships and a GA position, York’s latest communications suggest this will not be the case. When students earn money through external scholarships, York will claw it back so that the minimum guarantee is essentially a maximum guarantee. Taking on extra work may or may not be clawed back depending on the type of work and the student’s status, as charted in the tables above (see “How does my funding work under this model?“). There is nothing that currently forces York to enact these claw-backs; that is something the University chooses to do.

Also, in order to hold GAs in addition to the fellowship, those GAs would actually have to exist. However, within the new model, York will no longer fund GA positions, instead relying exclusively on faculty members to fund all GA positions. As if that weren’t enough, York is also charging faculty members an 80% surcharge on any GA positions so that they have to pay almost double to hire someone! This is a clear disincentive for faculty members who could have their grants denied if the amount they budgeted for GAs seems unreasonable.

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What’s the difference between a GA and RA?

This situation will push many faculty members to hire non-unionized RAs, without benefits, which undermines all the provisions we have sought to protect members. However, what the university doesn’t want you to know is that RA positions are not work positions, but are essentially a scholarship for students to complete their own research. The table below sets out the difference between a Graduate Assistantship (GA) and Research Assistantship (RA).

Graduate Assistantship Research Assistantship
Work Scholarship
Clerical, administrative, or research duties Does not require the performance of tasks
Can support a faculty member on their research
project
Research for the purpose of completing degree
requirements
Reports to a supervisor Does not involve reporting tasks to a supervisor
Assigned for a set period of hours No hours or schedule

Essentially, if you are doing work in any way, you should have a GA and thus have your working conditions and funding protected by the union.

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