FAQ: York’s New Fellowship Funding Model

York rolled out its new fellowship funding model to many questions. The following Frequently Asked Questions shares the information we have gotten so far. If you have other questions about the funding model you would like answered, 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, it is just an amount of money given to all graduate students to pay their tuition. While we now have some sense of how York is planning on meeting its funding commitments, there are still questions, especially regarding how this new model interacts with our collective agreements. We are sharing what we do know and will update this information as it evolves.


How does my funding work under this new model?

There are four broad scenarios, each of which is modified by external scholarships, work assignments, year of entry into the program, etc. The table below attempts to clarify this complex system as simply as possible by setting out the numbers for nine common scenarios. More detailed descriptions of what happens in cases of external scholarships and Research Assistantships (RAs) are below.

Common Scenarios Fellowship Salary Graduate Financial Assistance (GFA) International Tuition Offset (ITO)
International Masters – no work $19,256 N/A N/A N/A
International Masters – 0.5 GA $19,256* $3,467 salary + $1,819 Grant-in-Aid + $139 vacation pay GA in 1st year: $5170
GA in subsequent year: $5590
International Masters – 1.0 TA $8,467 $11,218 salary + $3,705 Grant-in-Aid + $449 vacation pay $3,255 $7,534
Domestic Masters – no work $10,000 N/A N/A N/A
Domestic Masters – 0.5 GA $10,000* $3,467 salary + $1,819 Grant-in-Aid + $139 vacation pay GA in 1st year: $4298
GA in subsequent year: $4628
Domestic Masters – 1.0 TA $5,403 $11,218 salary + $3,705 Grant-in-Aid + $449 vacation pay $1,947 N/A
International PhD – 2014+ cohort – 1.0 TA Year 1: $8,467
Year 2+: $7,837
$11,218 salary + $3,705 Grant-in-Aid + $449 vacation pay Year 1: $3,255
Year 2+: $3,885
International PhD – 2013 cohort – 1.0 TA $5,403 + ITFS top-up in an amount that meets funding commitments $11,218 salary + $3,705 Grant-in-Aid + $449 vacation pay $3,885 N/A
Domestic PhD – 1.0 TA $5,403 $11,218 salary + $3,705 Grant-in-Aid + $449 vacation pay Year 1: $1,947
Year 2+: $2,442

*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.


What if I have a scholarship?

Small scholarships likes 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, 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.


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 that this would be the policy going forward.


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 every 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.


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.


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).


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 http://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.


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

The health benefits you get as an employee of York University only applies 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 in order to get coverage which is inferior to that provided by the union. CUPE 3903’s health plan is paid for by York as part of your work contract. The table below presents the cost-benefit comparison of both plans.

GA Fellowship (GSA plan)
Health Plan Cost
Single domestic:
Domestic + dependent:
Domestic + 2 dependents:
Single International:
International + dependent:
International + 2 dependents:
$1012 (GSA + UHIP fees)
$1824 (GSA + UHIP fees)
$2816 (GSA + UHIP fees)
Coverage Rate 100% 75%
Maximum Paramedical
(e.g. psychologist, physiotherapist,
chiropractor etc.)
Up to $2000 annually for any one
service, to a maximum of $3000
for all services
Up to $300 annually per service
Vision Maximum Up to $400 per 24 months Up to $100 per 24 months
Dental Maximum Up to $3000 annually Up to $750 annually
Prescription drug maximum None Up to $1500 annually

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)


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 we don’t know how these people will be accommodated once 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 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.


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”. This means that at least 670 unionized jobs will be eliminated, decimating Unit 3. 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 but turning this into volunteer work or degrade students’ education by shifting this necessary labour into credit-based work.


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 not 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.


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 table 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 they have to pay almost double to hire someone!


What’s the difference between a GA and RA?

This 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
Research for the purpose of completing degree
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.