SGPS petitions against ARC fee for graduate students

Campaign calls on University to waive fees, ease financial burdens

According to the SGPS, an ARC refund will directly lead to increased student financial support.
Journal File Photo

Amidst the pandemic, the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is advocating for the University to grant refunds to graduate students who request their ARC fee back.

The Fair Fees for Students campaign comes months after the SGPS’ call to have summer tuition fees suspended or reduced was denied by the University.

According to the campaign, the decision resulted in “graduate students facing economic hardship due to summer job loss and considerable future employment uncertainty.”

“We request that fees be adjusted based on the services that will be offered, not the services wished to be provided,” the campaign states. “We request that the ARC provide refunds to the students who request it, as Queen’s has encouraged students not to return to campus this fall, and many students will be unable to do so due to health, travel, and financial restrictions.”

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Courtney Bannerman, SGPS vice-president (Graduate), told The Journal the petition currently has over 1,000 signatures and has resulted in conversation with various members of administration about the need and logistics surrounding a refund.

“An ideal outcome for our Fair Fees petition would be for the ARC to offer a refund for the students who request it. This would allow for a financial burden to be relieved from students who are in greatest need, who may not be living in Kingston, or are immunocompromised or live with someone who is,” Bannerman wrote.

The campaign states that upwards of 25 per cent of the international graduate student population has returned home and are unable to access the ARC, with the majority of students extending their semesters due to restricted access to libraries and laboratories and medical students seeing an outright ban on ARC access as they prepare for clinical classes.

According to the campaign, these factors are creating increased financial hardship that could be eased by a waived ARC fee on behalf of the University.

Bannerman explained that an ARC refund will directly lead to increased student financial support and hopes it would encourage more responsible and transparent spending of student fees by Queen’s and other services.

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According to the SGPS, graduate students are only guaranteed a certain number of years of funding: two for Master’s and four for Ph.D. students. Many research labs have been closed since March or have had restricted access in recent months, with special collections or archives still not running at full capacity.

“Although the School of Graduate Studies put protocols in place to allow for extended funding, this was for one additional semester for students graduating in August 2020,” Bannerman wrote.

“Many graduate students who were not graduating in August are worried about how months of restricted access to their research space will affect their ability to complete their degree within the 2 or 4 years. This level of stress has affected students’ [abilities] to work as well as their personal lives.” 

Regarding future initiatives for graduate student support, Bannerman detailed an alliance between the SGPS and the International Student Working Group campaigning for domestic tuition rates for research-based graduate students.

“Queen’s international graduate students work in the same research groups as domestic students producing the same level of high-quality research,” Bannerman wrote. “Unfortunately, due to high tuition rates, they often find themselves in financially challenging places and under a great deal of stress. Lowering tuition rates for research-based graduate students will not only allow students to devote more energy to their work but will also enable Queen’s to continue to attract top research talent.”

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