Funding and Intellectual Property

Brief Overview

  • Funding for most programs relies on outside grants and fellowships, Penn does not have much influence over the stipend/funding levels for these schools/departments
  • No other union (public or private) has increased funding for any program, indicating to us that unions are not effective at increasing funding
  • Similarly, no other union contract has any mention of increased IP right, leading us to the same conclusions as funding

In-Depth Overview

As graduate students, we are focused on completing our degrees, regardless of whether it is in the form of teaching, research, or some combination of the two. Our stipends and funding can have the most direct impact on our progress on our degree. GET-UP has repeatedly stated that they will be able to increase our funding and stipends while addressing intellectual property rights. While the union can claim that there will be dramatic improvements, it is important to focus on what is obtainable, and what other graduate student unions have won previously.


Without a doubt, funding for our degree and the stipend we receive for our work has the largest impact on our well-being. On the surface, it might appear that our stipends and funding enjoy a simple relationship between us and the university (as GET-UP is claiming): The university gives us money from their income/endowment, and we in turn provide services in the form of research and teaching.

However, the mechanism is much more complicated. Funding and stipend levels are determined by huge number of factors, and can vary across all 12 schools and 100+ programs. Funding for our degrees can be purely external grants (such as the NSF, NIH, and other public/private grants), internal Penn-funded grants, or some combination of the two. Several departments (such as BGS) are funded almost purely by grants from the NIH, with little to no funding from Penn. External grants (especially government grants from the NIH/NSF) often have stipulations about how much they can pay toward funding degree candidates, and are set years in advance. Any program in which the majority of funds comes from external grants will not likely be able to increase stipend or funding length as those have already been determined years in advance by outside agencies.

Schools/programs that are funded primarily through Penn or internal grants could theoretically benefit. If students from a certain program or department want to unionize, we fully support their right to do so, however grouping all students together under pan-graduate union would most likely result in school-specific issues (such as funding) not being resolved due to the collective needs of thousands of other students.

It is important to note that other graduate school unions (public or private) have not won increased funding. NYU’s and Temple’s union contracts have no mention of increased funding, and their annual stipend increases (2-3%) are already within the range that our stipends increase anyways. For example, the NYU graduate school union negotiated a 2.25-2.5% annual pay increase, which barely covers their 2% union due.

Stipends at Penn have increased at a rate between 2-3% per year (depending on the program/school). For example, the stipend given to Biomedical Graduate Studies (BGS) students has increased at an average rate of 1.91% per year over the past decade. The lack of a stipend increase between 2013-2015 was due to the government sequester, which shrank the NIH by roughly 3%.

BGS stipend

Intellectual Property

Nothing is more controversial in academy (or industry) as who owns intellectual property. The recent CRISPR court cases show that patent/IP disputes can drag out for years. It is unclear how GET-UP would even improve our IP rights considering that we receive the same share as faculty under Penn’s IP contract (see 4.0.18 INVENTORS).  All of Penn’s employees (including graduate students) are covered under the same contract and it is highly unlikely that GET-UP would be able to negotiate a IP separate contract with Penn. In fact, no other union (NYU or public university) contract addresses IP rights. The NYU contract states that graduate students will receive “appropriate acknowledgement”, which is not a strong commitment to protecting IP rights (see ARTICLE VIII-PROFESSIONAL CONDITION).NYU IP

GET-UP has made vague statements about providing subsidized patent lawyers, but has not indicated if they have contacted any local firms to see if such an option exists. Furthermore, Penn’s IP rights are protected under the Bayh-Dole Act, so it is not clear how GET-UP would be able to counter.  Penn already provides an entire center dedicated to expanding technologies and products developed by students and faculty, in fact over 70 companies that have been started by graduate students and faculty are being supported by Penn.