UC Grad Student Pay Lags Behind Competition

The following article was published in The Daily Cal, UC Berkeley’s student newspaper.

By Alisha Azevedo
Contributing Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010
Category: News > University > Academics and Administration

As the University of California tries to absorb massive cuts in state funding, a recent UC report shows that without addressing the many financial challenges graduate students face, the academic quality of the entire UC system could slowly erode.

The report, as well as a recent survey of UC Berkeley graduate students, found many concerns about graduate students’ level of compensation, working conditions, child services and affordable housing.

These concerns and possible solutions will be addressed when Steven Beckwith, UC vice president for research and graduate studies, presents the Biennial Accountability Sub-Report on Graduate Academic and Professional Degree Students to the UC Board of Regents in September.

The report, started in April at the request of UC President Mark Yudof, states that though the UC remains strong academically – producing 7 percent of all graduate students nationwide in 2009 – the UC’s level of financial compensation lags behind competitors.

The gap in compensation levels between UC schools and competing institutions – around $1,001 for students admitted in 2007 – could contribute to lower enrollment rates, the report states. Despite an increase in the number of graduate student applicants to the UC in the last decade, 43 percent of admitted students enrolled, compared with a 57 percent enrollment rate at other top research universities.

“We know that our stipends need to be more competitive,” Beckwith said. “I don’t know in this budget climate if we’ll be able to do that, but that needs to be a long-term goal.”

According to the report, recruitment of leading graduate students provides a strong incentive for retaining faculty. Christopher Kutz, chair of the UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate, said faculty depend on graduate students for success.

“In humanities and social sciences, it’s because the graduate students are the future of the profession,” he said. “In engineering and science, your own work as a faculty member is collaborative with graduate students. They are the main source of labor in research projects. The success of the projects depends on the graduate students you recruit.”

A May survey by the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly of 21 percent of campus graduate students found discontent regarding reduced student services as well as disproportionate financial burdens on the humanities and social sciences. Affordable housing, the “biggest single challenge” for graduate students according to Beckwith, also proved to be an obstacle for 32 percent of respondents.

The assembly used the results of its 50-question survey to draft a letter to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, asking him not to cut graduate student positions in the upcoming academic year’s budget, among other requests, according to Graduate Assembly President Philippe Marchand.

Marchand said a 3 percent reduction in GSI positions campus-wide has led to larger class sections and more work for graduate instructors. Undergraduates receive less personal attention as a result, according to Jessica Taal, UC Berkeley chair for UAW Local 2865, which represents graduate student instructors.

“The problem that we face is that not enough graduate student instructors are willing to come forward,” she said. “They realize they are overworked, but most feel that it’s part of the experience of graduate school and are afraid to complain about conditions because they want a good recommendation from their department.”

Of the 9 percent who responded to the portion of the survey for graduate student parents, nearly half gave the lowest possible rating for parent services, expressing frustration with a lack of affordable housing, limited childcare and expensive health care.

According to Heather Pineda, director of the Student Health Insurance Plan, past efforts to provide coverage for graduate student dependents proved financially unsustainable.

“Unfortunately, most insurance carriers won’t offer a dependent program that’s affordable to such a small population of students,” she said. “It’s been our experience that students have more affordable options in the insurance market than we would be able to offer them.”

Henry Powell, chair of the Academic Senate, said whatever the cause, losing graduate students will have a reverberating effect beyond the university, calling graduate students the “lifeblood” of the UC and critical to California’s “knowledge-based economy.”

“These kinds of cuts hurt the whole state because our economy is very dependent on discovery,” he said. “Often innovative and powerful research is done by graduate students.”
Tags: University of California, UC Board of Regents, UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, UAW Local 2865, UC Berkeley

Article Link: http://www.dailycal.org/article/109889