2000 – Discussion Paper on the Australian Qualifications Framework

Attachment: CAPA Paper

From CAPA’s perspective the core problem to be address by The Review of AQF Guidelines For the Bachelor Degree and Postgraduate Qualifications are deficiencies in the current Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) standards for Higher Degrees. However, it is also clear that some of the deficiencies in the regulation of educational awards flow not from the AQF, but from the lack of a coherent national regulatory system. Both need to be addressed urgently.

CAPA has identified the following problems with the current AQF:

  • entry to coursework Masters is set at the three year Bachelor(pass) level and not the standard for other Higher Degrees which is the four year Bachelor with Honours level;
  • a full year of what is effectively a qualifying year can be counted as part of the Masters by coursework and, as a consequence, the duration of the Masters by coursework may be too short by one year;
  • the research Masters is too short in duration by at least one year, being one year instead of two; and
  • the PhD is too short in duration by at least one year, being three years instead of four.

Research conducted by CAPA and the AQF shows that some of these deficiencies are the legacy of past standards that have been incorporated into the AQF without review. Accurate standards are now essential because the marketisation of postgraduate coursework has created significant pressure on providers and accrediting bodies to lower course standards. In the case of research Degrees, pressure from government to reduce the funding periods has also highlighted deficiencies with the current AQF.

CAPA recommends the creation of a separate AQF level for the Bachelor Degree Honours to clarify the entry pathways to Higher Degrees and substantial amendment to the AQF guidelines for the Masters Degree and the Doctorate. In the case of the Masters, both coursework and research awards should have the same entry standard and be of similar duration (two years). In the case of the Doctorate, it is recommended that the duration be increased to four years and that an additional description of the Professional Doctorate be included in the guidelines.

The entry of Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers into the postgraduate coursework arena has called into question the relevance of generic AQF standards for both VET and university courses. The nexus between teaching and research is particularly relevant to postgraduate courses and needs to be maintained. Furthermore, the move to competency based training in VET and inflexibility from VET and universities on articulation has created an excessive barrier between the two sub-sectors of higher education.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

Postgraduate Higher Degree Research students – PhD’s, Masters by Research and Professional Doctorates – are the engine that drives Australia’s research capability. They perform about 60% of the research and produce about 30% of publications in universities.

In December 1999, the government released the White Paper on research and research training. One of the key elements in the implementation of the White Paper, is the government’s plan to reduce up to 3,500 higher degree research places.

Recent analysis now shows that regional, technological and new universities are hardest hit. The government’s intention represents further dis-investment in Australia’s research capability at a time when the need to invest in the ‘new knowledge’ economy becomes an increasingly urgent imperative.

The ‘Gap Places’
There are about 25,000 (full time equivalent) domestic Higher Degree Research students studying in Australian universities. Of these, the government funds approximately 21,500 by providing HECS-exempt places. The 3,500 places above the HECS-exempt allocation are the contentious ‘Gap places’. These are offered by institutions to students on a HECS-liable basis.

Where are the ‘gap places’ ?
The vast majority of ‘gap places’ are in regional, technological and new universities. For some of these, the gap places represent up to 50% of their total research load (see attached tables).

Choice? What Choice?
The process by which the government proposes to reduce these gap places has been dressed up as a ‘choice’. Universities can either;

  • Convert their ‘gap places’ to non-research load (undergraduate or postgraduate coursework) after the students currently in place have completed their studies.
  • Retain their ‘gap places’ as postgraduate research places for re-allocation to a national ‘pool’ after current students complete.

If universities phase out their ‘gap places’ by converting them to non research load then the institution retains the funding.

If institutions retain their ‘gap places’ there will be no additional funding and the institutions will have to pay the HECS component. Moreover universities do not really retain the place because they go into a national ‘pool’ for re-allocation once the student has completed.

Does this constitute a realistic choice? ALL institutions will be substantially worse off financially if they opt for the ‘gap retained’ approach . This is because they will give up the funding for their gap places and could only win back the share of that funding that they gain through the competitive formula that governs the national pool (on average 2.7%).

Therefore CAPA believes that the proposed approach does not offer a realistic choice, but rather, is a cynical and politically expedient approach because it allows criticism of significant cuts in load to be directed at institutions not the government. (“They had a choice”).

Attachment: CAPA Paper

Earlier in the year I worked out a model showing indicative value of HDR students to universities in the new funding formulas. In May DETYA released a briefing paper on implementation of the RTS which made a significant change to the formulas in the White Paper by weighting completions by RFM. Accordingly I have recalculated the model to reflect this change. Please note that this is only for indicative purposes. The key point is the emphasis on completions.

  • Institutional Grants Scheme (IGS)
  • combines old Research Quantum ($223 M) and the ARC small grants ($31 M).
  • funding formula – research income (60%), HDR load – (30%) and publications (10%).

HDR load will be calculated on a discipline weighted basis for HECS-exempt domestic students. Using 1999 data, HDR load will translate to each student being worth $2011pa in the low band and $4726pa in the high band. (In practice load will be averaged over most recent two years of load data)

Attachment: CAPA Paper

The ALP’s TAFE and higher education policy package, Aim Higher, was released this morning. Aim Higher is primarily useful to CAPA activists as it makes clear which elements of the government’s Backing Australia’s Future package it is ALP policy to oppose. The news here is good, with the ALP opposing most elements of the federal package of primary concern to CAPA.

Aim Higher also sets out the ALP’s vision for higher education in Australia. As the ALP is in opposition, these elements of the policy package are less useful, except in so far as they lay down the gauntlet to the federal government. In this respect, the package is quite disappointing. The ALP would only return half of the $5 billion stripped from higher education by the Liberals since they came to power. The ALP remains committed to student fees and differential HECS. As a consequence there is no commitment to remove fees from postgraduate coursework. They seem uninterested in the extension of degree granting status to TAFE and private providers. They do not mention income support for higher degree students.

Here, we briefly overview the highlights of the Aim Higher and the areas of Backing Australia’s Future the ALP opposes. A fuller briefing analysing which areas of the Backing Australia’s Future the ALP has ignored (which will help us isolate which areas they may sell out on) will be available within 48 hours.

Attachment: CAPA Submission

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is the national body for Australia’s 139 350 postgraduate students. Postgraduate students fall into two main categories; those undertaking Higher Degrees Research (HDR) and those undertaking postgraduate coursework programs. The later cover all levels of award from graduate certificate to professional doctorate.

Commonwealth Government policies have resulted in negative growth in the number of postgraduate places for Australian students. These policies are out of balance with a likely increase in demand for postgraduate studies flowing from:

  • growth in the number of undergraduate students;
  • projected increased demand for research educated graduates in the emerging knowledge industries such as biotechnology and information and communications technology;
  • growth in the number of areas of work which require postgraduate qualifications for initial entry; and
  • increased demand for high level continuing education in traditional and newly professionalised areas.

The CAPA submission addresses these issues as they affect postgraduate students in research and coursework programs.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

The purpose of this paper is to bring constituents up to date with developments with the White Paper Knowledge and Innovation: A Policy Statement on Research and Research Training which was released on the 22nd of December 1999. It is important to emphasise that the White Paper had even less detail than the Green Paper and to date crucial details are yet to be clarified by DETYA or the Minister. This lack of clarity means that no detailed financial modelling has been done by DETYA, AVCC or CAPA.

2. Green Paper to White Paper

The White Paper on research education and university research Knowledge and Innovation: A Policy Statement on Research and Research Training is the product of a long process of development. Minister Kemp released the Government’s Green Paper New Knowledge, New Opportunities (or provisional policy) on the 30th of June 1999. (It is telling that ‘new’ was dropped in the latter document’s title)

The Green Paper contained a number of proposals that are anathema to the interests of postgraduate students. It targeted research and research studies as a ‘soft’ area in which to pilot four elements of the Government’s ultra economically dry education blueprint. These are:

  • student vouchers;
  • up-front fees as co-payments;
  • the redistribution of government funding for university research and teaching to private, non-university providers; and
  • the redirection of university research and teaching funds to commercial projects conducted by private companies.

The release date of the Green Paper had been set back many months in part due to a tug-of-war between the ARC and DETYA over which would control research and research studies. (A confidential early draft released to 5 vice-chancellors for comment proposed abolishing the ARC in its entirety and placing all research funding into block grants.) Despite its lengthy gestation period the Green Paper contained no modelling of the impacts of its proposals.

CAPA’s response to the Green Paper was in two stages. The first was an immediate effort to build a broad coalition against the ‘Trojan-horse’ of the postgraduate vouchers proposal. CAPA correctly predicted that this proposal was the spearhead for a much broader agenda encompassing the entire higher education sector. As discussed below, with much hard work and some luck, CAPA’s approach was eventually successful in stymieing the vouchers proposal. The second stage of CAPA’s response was to undertake substantial analysis of the actual impacts of the Green Paper’s proposals on postgraduate students and on universities; something the Government and DETYA had failed to do.

Under the Green Paper system Higher Degrees Research (HDR) students would be significantly worse off in at least three areas.

  1. The length of funding for candidature falls from 5 to 3.5 years for PhD and 3 to 2 for a Masters.
  2. Mobility and other provisions reduced.
  3. Students pay full fees where their term of candidature exceeds the funded period.

Thus, if adopted in full the Green Paper would have placed students in the invidious position of being forced to hand up work which was less than the current internationally recognised standard for HDR or face a crushing financial impost.

While some aspects of the Green Paper were obvious, others, such as the impacts of its proposal to relocate HDR places across the entire sector, required modelling and public discussion if the practical impacts were to be made known. However, for the most part it was not possible to make an analysis of the impact of the Green Paper on the system as a whole or on individual universities due to its lack of data and modelling. This point was not lost on universities and the AVCC who set about the task of getting additional information from DETYA and establishing credible independent modelling.

Fortunately, CAPA was also able to contract the services of consultants with similar skill and access to data. The findings of this analysis – and that done independently by universities – was that the Green Paper system redistributed funding for HDR and research in quite a random manner. Some universities were to receive a massive windfall and others set to lose large amounts of operating grant and research funds. This became a public issue as the analysis done by individual universities trickled into the public domain. For example, only days after being presented by the Treasurer with the Good Universities Guide University of the Year Award, Deakin University announced that the Green Paper would strip it of most of its research higher degree places.

As well as these re-allocation effects, the Green Paper established, for the first time in Australia, a mechanism which allowed public funding of private non-university institutions for teaching and research. Not only would diversion of public funds to private providers further dilute diminishing public investment it raises significant questions about the probity and independence of research in such environments. The Green Paper funding framework also has a very negative impact on basic research – the predominate form of research undertaken by universities. Moreover by removing minimum funding for institutions for research, the Green Paper effectively re-introduced the binary system in which research was disaggregated from teaching.

In summary, students, universities and public education were set to be the big losers under the Green Paper. Many of the worst effects of the Green Paper have been dropped or modified in the White Paper however a number have not.

Attachment: CAPA Submission

Proposed Implementation of the Research Training Scheme
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) has many
reservations about the policy basis and the complexity of the implementation
of the RTS.