Recently, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has changed their definitions related to summer studentships. In the past, these placements were considered scholarships and were exempt from Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI) deductions. However, because the guidelines from external funders dictate the number of weeks and hours per week the student must be in their placement, the summer studentships are now considered employment. Because of these changes in definitions, the studentships now need to adhere to Alberta’s minimum wage requirements. As you may be aware, on October 1, 2017 the minimum wage in Alberta was set at $13.60/hour and on October 1, 2018 it will increase to $15.00/hour.
The Office of Research & Innovation Services (ORIS) is required to comply with these provincial legislations as well as rules around administering student awards. There is also a need for internal cohesion between all summer studentships. In order for the ORIS to satisfy both internal and external requirements, all summer studentships administered by ORIS will require a mandatory top up from the supervisor as of January 1, 2018. The goal of these mandatory contributions from supervisors is to provide the best experience to our students in terms of fair pay for research work and in terms of students accessing summer research studentships across disciplines. ORIS is bound by the funders in terms of the length of time students must be engaged in their work over the summer, and the amount of money allocated for each of these awards (the separate granting councils for SSHRC, NSERC and AIHS, and the UofL for Chinook Awards).
The charts attached to this notice describe the required top ups for both the 2018 and 2019 competitions. The required faculty top-ups must be confirmed at the time of application. Each funding opportunity guideline describes how these contributions are to be confirmed.
There are concerns about possible inequities arising amongst students in specific disciplines accessing awards under this new policy. For example, funds contributed by NSERC for Undergraduate Summer Research Awards (USRAs) have a lower value and thus will require a higher top-up amount from faculty than Chinook Awards, SSHRC USRAs or AIHS Summer Studentships. Thus, it may be more challenging for faculty members to support these awards. Additionally, some disciplinary groups may hold less external funding to contribute towards top-ups. The ORIS will track the numbers of applications by disciplinary silo for the next two to three years and compare them to previous cycles to see if and how particular student groups may be affected in terms of applying for and receiving these awards.
The ORIS will continue to investigate other alternatives and work with other units on campus in the administration of external requirements. If you have questions regarding these changes, please consult the funding opportunity guidelines for the appropriate contact using the ORIS Funding Database.