The University of Toronto has become the first Canadian university to offer a guaranteed level of financial support for graduate students pursuing doctoral degrees, offering them a minimum C$12,000 (£5,350) package, in line with American doctoral students and up from its previous C$8,000 minimum.
The support comes after the average tuition fee for graduate students increased for the fifth year in a row. Graduate fees for 2000-01 have gone up by an average of 11.2 per cent since 1997-98, with the current figure at C$4,360 a year, according to recent figures from Statistics Canada.
While graduate fees have been soaring, the same report shows undergraduate fee increases have finally abated a little after a 126 per cent rise over ten years. The average annual cost for an undergraduate arts degree went up last year by only 2.1 per cent to C$3,452, compared with a 3.1 per cent increase the year before and an average 7.3 per cent rise for the previous five years.
Toronto's decision to offer greater support to its doctoral students comes at a time when the province is experiencing unprecedented increases in graduate and professional programme fees, many of which have recently been deregulated. Tuition fees for medicine at the University of Toronto have jumped by more than 200 per cent in the past three years and dentistry students paid almost C$9,000 last year.
Colleges have also been affected - dental hygiene at St Clair College in Windsor and animation courses at Sheridan College, just outside of Toronto, saw a mark-up of 784 per cent over the same three years.
Toronto said it was hoping its promise of support would make graduate studies more accessible. The university estimates the scheme could cost it up to C$18 million and has launched a targeted fundraising campaign.
No other university has yet announced a similar type of support, leading Jesse Greener, chair of the graduate caucus at the Canadian Federation of Students, to see a stratification of "have" and "have-not" univer-sities.
"It's the bigger, richer universities that can afford to do this," Mr Greener said.
He says the rise in graduate fees is akin to an up-front tax on a group that cannot afford it - most graduate students are interested in pursuing a career in academia but are misperceived as people who are going to be earning high salaries once they leave university.
"Higher education is being equated with high-paying industry jobs," Mr Greener said.