The Senate Source

June 2014

Doctoral Support Conference Yields Strong Consensus for Better Support

An all-UC Doctoral Student Support Conference held at UC Irvine on April 15 and co-sponsored by the Senate has generated a number of substantive best practices and recommendations for supporting doctoral students.

The conference was organized jointly by Provost Aimée Dorr and Senate Vice Chair Mary Gilly in response to the Regents’ request that they develop actionable proposals and cost estimates for making UC competitive in its financial support of doctoral graduate students. Last November the Regents heard analyses developed in 2012 and updated with new data by two task forces that found that UC is falling behind its competitors in the financial support offers it makes to potential doctoral students.

Many of the new recommendations are based on preliminary ideas submitted to the conference by the Graduate Students Association, the Council of Graduate Deans, and the Coordinating Committee on Graduate Affairs (CCGA). The ideas were vetted and refined at the conference by four break-out groups – Professional Development and Partnerships, Non-Resident Supplemental Tuition (NRST), Competitiveness in Net Stipends, and Competitiveness in Diversity and Student Recruitment.

Conference participants expressed strong support for many ideas, including a proposal to eliminate NRST charged to students in academic doctoral and MFA programs after the first year.

Other recommendations include establishing a multi-year funding guarantee for doctoral students who are making adequate progress; building a systemwide offer template that provides clear information to admitted graduate students about financial support and fellowships and teaching expectations; establishing a systemwide doctoral fellowship endowment; building a website that connects students with alumni and career opportunities beyond the academy; enhancing “family friendly” policies and practices; and finding new strategies for increasing diversity in doctoral programs.

Organizers intend to discuss the proposals with the Regents in January 2015, after more fully developing operational components and attaching a specific price tag to each.

Vice Chair Gilly says some of the recommendations, particularly those related to the elimination of NRST, echo those made in a June 2012 report by the Senate Task Force on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support (CAGSS). She notes that joint administration-Senate task forces – one in 2012 co-chaired by UCSD Executive Vice Chancellor Suresh Subramani and then-Council chair Robert Anderson as well as others in 2006 and 2002 – reached similar conclusions about the UC’s declining ability to make competitive financial support offers to doctoral students but did not consistently recommend elimination of NRST.

“The elimination of NRST has been a longstanding priority of the Senate,” she said. Faculty have to use funds from their grants to pay the extra charges for non-resident students and are concerned that the practice of charging NRST to research grants means that departments cannot afford to attract the world’s best graduate students. I think there is a lot of interest at UCOP and among the Regents in finding ways to better support doctoral education and mitigate some of these problems.”

Over the past decade, the Academic Senate has expressed consistent support for eliminating NRST, noting that NRST revenue is offset by the necessary use of University funds to pay this expense for non-resident doctoral students in order to offer competitive levels of support. In addition to the CAGSS report, CCGA’s 2005 report, The Decline of UC as a Great International University, its 2010 White Paper on Graduate Education, the Academic Senate’s May 2006 Memorial to the Regents on Non-Resident Tuition for Graduate Students, and Council’s endorsement in August 2006 of the report of the Competitive Graduate Student Financial Support Advisory Committee (GSAC) have made similar recommendations.