How Much Should Grad Students Get Paid?

3 minute read

There are any number of ways to approach this question.

  • What does “fully funded” mean in an advert?
  • How different are the funding and financial support systems between universities in Canada, USA, and Europe (including UK here too)?

Where I am (Ontario, Canada), universities receive two sources of money for grad students: the province and student tuition. Both are controlled, in some form, by the provincial government.

Some universities will set a minimum support level for grad students for some number of years. Others do not. We typically offer our incoming masters students institutional support in the form of 4 TA positions (2 per year) and 2 years of a small scholarship (by calling it a scholarship it is tax-free.)

For masters students, the TA pay is $5122/term so $10,244/year. The scholarship is $1500/term so $4500/year. Together this is $14,744/year for 2 years. No financial support from the supervisor is required in some programs, including mine. Some programs have a required contribution from the supervisor but I don’t know how this is enforced.

For doctoral students, the TA pay is $5122/term so $10,244/year. The scholarship is $2833/term so $8500/year. Together this is $18,744/year for 4 years. Supervisors are required to provide $3500/year (typically in the spring term) for a total of $22,244/year for 4 years. Some programs have a higher required contribution from the supervisor but I don’t know how this is enforced.

Some, but not all, of this information is available online if you click around enough.

The TA pay is likely to rise now that our TAs have unionised, have reached their first Collective Agreement, and have voted to ratify their Collective Agreement.

Universities (mine, as in my employer, in this case) receive two sources of money from grad students:

  • core grants from the province of about $5800/term so $17,400/year for 2 years for masters students and about $9280/term so $27,840/year for 3 years for doctoral students (the values are based on the number of weighted grant units and each masters program is worth a different amount and doctoral programs are worth more); and
  • student tuition of about $2923/term so $8769/year for however long the student is enrolled.

In total this is $26,169/year for masters students for 2 years and $36,609/year for 3 years for doctoral students. Once those 2 and 3 year limits are passed then the university only gets the tuition money. This means that it does not matter how long it takes a grad student to finish, the amount of money the unviersity gets from the province is capped. Some gory details for fun.

The rub comes in (aye, there’s the rub!) with:

  • the general cost of living,
  • the below minimum wage nature of the support listed above (minimum wage of $15.00/hr × 35hr/wk × 52wk = $27,300 and in October 2022 minimum wage of $15.50/hr × 35hr/wk × 52wk = $28,210),
  • the below living wage nature of the support listed above (currently $17.20hr × 35hr/wk × 52wk = $31,304),
  • the effect of restricting professors from taking grad students if they do not have the necessary additional support money for the necessary years,
  • whether any graduate students should need to take any student loans, noting that the provincial and federal student loan system is wildly different that what exists in other countries in part because of the formula used to calculate loan amounts, the availability of grants (that is, money that does not need to be repaid), the tax deductibility of tuition and enrollment, etc.

So how much should grad students get paid? Where should the money come from?

I’m not sure the exact amount but more than they currently get. I’m also not sure where the money should come from. Scholarship values have not increased much in two decades and are now more like partial support than full sport.


This comparison of biology doctoral student pay that plots annual guaranteed salary against MIT living wage is interesting both for the dollar amounts and the spread in the data. See also Shelly Gaynor’s tweet.

There was some discussion in fall 2021 (as there often is during grad student recruitment season) about changes to minimum support amounts.