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My university is starting a policy where graduate students need to pay for printing (10 cents per page) while It was free before. As a student coming from another university, I see it very weird policy. Actually, I am not aware of any university charges its PhD students for printing. I heard faculty members will be charged as well but at lower rate.

is freely printing a fundamental right for PhD students? If Yes, how to raise it?

is this common in other universities across the world (charging PhD students for printing)?

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    What kind of printing are you talking about? Printing out articles? Printing out dissertations? – earthling Jul 10 '13 at 2:04
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    Both universities I have been to give the students a certain number of pages per semester (500) that are included in the tuition. – Austin Henley Jul 10 '13 at 3:03
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    Does this charge include printing that is essential as part of your duties, such as printing lab sheets in case of T.A. and so? (I have free printing, but I print very little). – gerrit Jul 10 '13 at 10:01
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    In principle, my department charges everyone (including faculty) for printing. In practice, it's cheaper to subsidize everyone's printing than to manage the accounting and fee collection, so printing is actually free. – JeffE Jul 10 '13 at 18:27
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    If you're printing something necessary for a class you're TAing, email it to your instructor and ask them to print it. If you're printing something necessary for your research, email it to your advisor and ask them to print it. Be sure to explain why. – JeffE Jul 10 '13 at 18:29
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is freely printing a fundamental right for PhD students?

A fundamental right? No. But charging for printing borders on the ridiculous. – Printing is a necessity, not a right.

Think of it in economic terms. A PhD is a job (there are a few peculiarities, and it’s also part of a student’s education, but nevertheless you ultimately are doing a job, which consists of doing research). If preventing you from printing makes your job harder, the institute has a financial interest in removing that obstacle.

What company charges employees for office supplies? The concept is ludicrous. Why not charge them rent for their cubicles as well? Printing publications, drafts and reports for reading is simply a fundamental part of doing research – unless your institute sponsors ebook readers; and even then your PhD will probably involve filling out forms for HR etc.

If your institute suspects that printing is predominantly used for non job related purposes then that may be a problem that needs addressing (and the same goes if the institute suspects that printing could be reduced without impacting performance – lots of companies have tried paper-free offices but so far I haven’t heard of any resounding success, at least not in science). But charging students for printing is still unacceptable since it obstructs them from doing their jobs.

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    Nice answer. The two aspects of doing a PhD as on the one hand getting education, on the other hand doing a research job fit nicely here. I think whether charging for printing is ridiculous or not would depend on the balance of these aspects in the individual institution (or even for the individual student). – silvado Jul 12 '13 at 11:59
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We had unlimited printing through our department (Computer Science). When I taught high school, we also had unlimited printing and copying but we also had a copy card that counted down the copies -- when the card reached zero, we had to get it refreshed. I assume this was to keep us apprised of just how many copies we were making, but I don't think it ever slowed anyone down.

These days, I don't print much, but one of the best purchases I made was an inexpensive laser printer that cranked out lots and lots of pages with nary a whimper. The convenience outweighed the cost significantly. It's amazing what you can get these days, e.g., duplex and wireless for $80.

If you can't get the policy changed, and are going to print more than a couple of hundred dollars worth of pages (2000 at $0.10/page in your case), I'd recommend a cheap laser printer (to print 2000 pages, it can cost as little as $80 for the printer, $15 for paper, and $45 for a high-yield toner refill).

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I finished my Ph.D. at a large state university. We could print 250 pages a month, and after that it was five cents a page.

I still remember being informed one month that I owed four dollars, and having to trek upstairs to find the right person to pay it to. It struck me as undignified and distasteful, and reflected a feeling among many of the grad students that the support staff were there to enforce rules, and were "not on our side".

This issue becomes especially salient if students are expected to print out worksheets, solutions, and other materials for TA assignments. If I had to pay for this out of pocket, given poverty-level graduate student wages, I would be quite resentful.

I believe that policies like this are relatively common, perhaps usually with some free monthly quota -- but I nevertheless urge you to oppose this policy at your university.

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  • 250 pages does seem low, however, charging students for printing is to discourage waste. Where I work the students get a large amount of print credit when the school year starts and if they use that credit they would have to pay the school to "top-up" their credit (although no student has ever reached this limit). – tombull89 Jul 10 '13 at 7:38
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    This issue becomes especially salient if students are expected to print out worksheets, solutions, and other materials for TA assignments. I can't imagine where this would be policy, and seteropere should be able to make the case that this is ridiculous. – Chris Gregg Jul 10 '13 at 14:15
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Here in Asia my university does not support any kind of 'free printing.' If (any) student wants to print a dissertation, an assignment, etc. they usually either print at home or they go to a printing store where their work gets printed and bound properly (for a fee).

Honestly, I'm a little surprised that some schools support students printing for free. First, it's not very eco-friendly. Second, it's wasteful. Everything should be left in its digital form.

That said, my school does tend to print a lot and they require students to submit printed copies of their assignments. Still, we should be moving towards less printing, not more. One way to do this is to add a disincentive to printing (having people pay for it).

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  • so you need to pay each time you print an article related to your research? – seteropere Jul 10 '13 at 2:16
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    Students do pay to print. Faculty could avoid paying. – earthling Jul 10 '13 at 2:41
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    "Everything should be left in its digital form": Too strong a statement. It's very hard for me to edit or review a manuscript just reading it on a screen. Not everything needs to be printed out—but some things do. – aeismail Jul 10 '13 at 6:24
  • @aeismail Could be a difference in our fields. I regularly do all my reading on screen and I prefer to edit digitally as it's easier to move words around and if I need to insert a significant amount of text, there's always room in a digital document (unless someone gives me a PDF, which makes adding significant amounts of text quite difficult). I also like the ability to change the font size for those times my eyes start to hurt. Doing the same with a printed page requires a magnifying glass. – earthling Jul 10 '13 at 6:39
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    unless someone gives me a PDF — In my field, this phrase is synonymous with "unless someone gives me a document". – JeffE Jul 10 '13 at 18:25
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Printing costs can add up to a lot of money in a hurry (recall that they include primer cartridge, maintenance on the machines, and people time to replace the cartridges and perform the maintenance). Various features such as color, duplex and transparencies cost more.

Depending on the discipline and the work culture of your department this can take a real bite out of the budget. When that happens the cost have to be contained somehow.

As other people have noted this generally involves tracking the number of print jobs and charging for some or all of them. Often students get a free allocation.

My most recent department had IT under a separate budget, and they charged print jobs to the work unit (high-energy physics group; attosecond physics group; Physics education group; the department for TAs; etc) who then did what they saw fit to get their people to conserve on it.

My work unit had a "don't print if you don't need it" culture and provided generous displays to help you get along without paper. We also tended to send only the pages with figures to the color print if we were printing journal articles (color cost ten times as much a B&W).

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I have been to graduate school (MS) in India (one of the better known schools) as well as graduate school in the US (PhD, also, one of the better known schools)

I have never heard of printing charges. We have always had unlimited printing. And I have really tested these bounds. :) Sure, there are reminders not to print more than needed in order to save trees but there is and to my knowledge never has been any printing charges in any of the schools that I have been to.

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In our department (in the USA) you have 50 free pages per semester, 5 cents per page after. I used to think this is ridiculous so I asked about it. Our department used to have problems with students (undergrad or grad) abusing free printing in order to print out entire books, etc. Indeed, I am aware of students who do this at other universities.

Once a grad student joins a research group in our department, however, the research group usually has its own dedicated printer for its grad students to use.

Similarly, if you're a teaching assistant, you should certainly get free printing privileges for printing that is related to the job.

I will also point out that there are often ways to get around the printing regulator, and indeed this is done often in our department -- so in the end mostly the honest lose out with such a system.

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I am at a university in Australia, at my particular University, I am entitled to approximately 200 printouts/copies before I need to pay, but the cost is not huge (less than 10c for a black and white sheet).

Just like what has been suggested here, this is a good way to eliminate waste. However, one could take this a bit further and suggest some limits may encourage students to be wiser in their research - only printing what is vital.

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