2000 – “Gap Places” What are they? What does it mean?

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”).