Putting all the pieces together

No matter which metaphor you choose – toolkit, puzzle or chessboard – funding doctoral students at UBC is often a complex undertaking. Pieces are constantly shifting as the results of award and grant competition are announced throughout the year, as changes to an individual student’s registration status cascade through TA assignments, as prospective students accept or decline their admission offers, and so on. Even more so than usual, the UBC funding landscape has undergone significant changes in this past year. Staying with the chess metaphor: there are several new pieces on the board.

First, UBC has approved a university-wide minimum funding policy for doctoral students. Specifically, the policy requires that all full-time students who begin a UBC-Vancouver PhD program in September 2018 or later be provided with a minimum funding package equal to $18,000 for each of the first four years of their PhD. The funding package may consist of any combination of internal or external awards, teaching-related work, research assistantships, and graduate academic assistantships. Many graduate programs already have such policies in place – often at a higher amount – and many other programs without a specific policy do, in practice, fund their students well above the minimum. In the end, the new policy will primarily affect the approximately 15% of our doctoral students who are not currently funded to the minimum level. It will be a significant undertaking for some graduate programs to re-orient their admissions and funding structures to guarantee the minimum funding level at the time that admission offers are made.

Helping offset the cost of implementing the minimum funding policy, two new funding programs for doctoral students have been introduced, injecting $8 million per year in new doctoral student funding: the International Doctoral Fellowship (IDF) and the Doctoral Recruitment Fellowship (DRF). Each IDF provides funding for a total of five years: a $30,000 stipend plus tuition for four years and a minimum $18,000 funding package (from the recipient's supervisor/department/Faculty, comprising awards, teaching assistantships and/or research assistantships) for the fifth year. The fellowship recipients are selected through a university-wide competition in February-March each year. The DRF program provides the same funding as the UDF program above. However, rather than select DRF recipients through a university-wide competition, DRF funding slots will be allocated to new tenure-track assistant professors who will, in turn, use their funding slot to recruit an incoming doctoral student. Thus, the program will support the recruitment of both new assistant professors and incoming doctoral students. When the two programs are at full capacity, they will support 240 students for four years each. Together, these programs represent an increase of more than 25% in graduate award funding provided from UBC’s operating budget. 

Finally, the introduction of a minimum funding policy has also prompted the university to recognize that a small subset of doctoral students do not wish to pursue their studies full-time and do not require the same funding support as full-time students. Therefore, part-time PhD registration will also become available effective September 2018. The option of part-time registration will be limited to graduate programs that have been approved for part-time doctoral study and to students who find a suitable research supervisor, as part-time studies may not suit the research topic of the student or some faculty. The part-time option is designed for students who are active professionals, to enable these students to continue employment in fields related to their studies. The primary implications for student funding are that part-time doctoral students will not be eligible for (a) the minimum funding package described above and (b) award funding (with some exceptions).

The changes described above represent the most significant changes – both in terms of policy and in terms of new dollars added – to the doctoral funding landscape since the introduction of the Four Year Fellowship program in 2009.