2003 – Response to the ALP Policy Discussion Paper ‘Research: Engine Room of the Nation’

Attachment: CAPA Submission

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the development of the Australian Labor Party’s national research policy. We support public consultation as integral to this policy development process. We submit the following response to Senator Kim Carr’s policy discussion paper, Research Engine Room of the Nation , on behalf of all students enrolled in Australian postgraduate degrees.

CAPA is the national peak body representing Australia’s 155,312 postgraduate students. It has affiliated postgraduate associations in 33 of Australia’s public higher education institutions and in all States and Territories. Australian postgraduate students fall into two broad categories: postgraduate coursework students who number 116,813 and postgraduate research students who number 38,499.

The research undertaken by doctoral and research masters candidates, as well as the research carried out by many postgraduate coursework students for the thesis component of their degrees, is a vital part of the Australian research effort. In 1984, Margaret Powles estimated that postgraduate students contributed 35-50 per cent of universities’ research and between 10.8-15.5 per cent of Australia’s total research effort. More recently, Siddle has argued that a more accurate figure is 65-70 per cent of university research. National research policy is also of particular relevance to postgraduate students as the research labour force of the future. The postgraduate students of 2003 will be employed by universities, public sector research agencies and in private sector research and development (R&D).

CAPA supports the numerous positive suggestions for fostering Australian research canvassed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in Research: Engine Room of the Nation. CAPA is heartened by the broad themes of the paper, including the importance of the research role of universities and the need for increased university funding; the need for more public investment in R&D in order to stimulate private sector R&D; and the need to support a diverse range of basic and applied research across all disciplines. This document contains discussion and recommendations on a number of specific topics within these broad themes.

The focus of CAPA’s response to Research: Engine Room of the Nation is the research capacity of universities. The educational experience of all postgraduate students, both research and coursework students, is affected by the quality of university research, the quality of the teaching informed by that research, and by the quality of university research infrastructure.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

By 30 June 2003 Australian students and graduates will owe more than $9 billion to the Commonwealth Government for the cost of their Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) fees. The higher education reform package, to be released this year by the Federal Minister for Education, Dr Brendan Nelson, is predicted to increase student debt considerably by:

  • allowing universities to charge ‘top-up’ fees in addition to HECS fees, increasing student fees by up to 25%;
  • doubling the number of full fee paying places at Australian universities; and
  • introducing new student loans for ‘top-up’ fees and full fee paying places which will accrue interest at close to market rates.

Student debt affects the capacity of graduates to own a home, have a family, and access private finance such as mortgages, personal loans and credit cards.

In Australia, compulsory student debt repayments delay the capacity of graduates to save a first home deposit and make mortgage repayments. This has influenced the following trends.

  • The proportion of 20-24 year olds living at home increased from 42% in 1986 to 47% in 1999, while the proportion of 25-29 year olds living at home increased from 12% to 17% over the same period.
  • The median age of first home buyers had risen from 30.2 years in 1988 to 31.8 years in 1996-97.
  • The current national level of home ownership is beginning to fall after three decades of remaining stable at 70%.
  • Home ownership is predicted to fall to under 60% over the next 30 years, and to become closer to 50% in Sydney over the same period.

Student debt has also meant that Australians are delaying having their first child, and choosing to have fewer children.

  • Australia’s fertility rate reached a record low in 2001 with women having an average of 1.73 children, and men an average of 1.67 children. This is significantly lower than the average of 2.1 children per couple needed to replace our current population.
  • The median age of Australian mothers at the birth of their first child rose from 24 in 1975 to 29 in 2000.

The proposed changes to student loan schemes in Australia – in particular the decision to charge interest on student loans – will make the Australian loan system more like the New Zealand system. Both countries have an income-contingent repayment scheme, however student loans in New Zealand accrue interest while Australian student debt is adjusted for CPI but is currently interest-free.

The New Zealand student loan scheme has been the subject of intense domestic and international criticism.

  • In 1999, economic modelling in New Zealand revealed that it would take the average male university student 17 years to repay a loan of $20,000, while it would take the average female student 51 years to repay a loan of the same size.
  • A survey of New Zealand bank managers and loans officers in 2002 found that 51% of those who had received applications from clients with student loans had cited student loans as a contributing factor in declining finance and, of these respondents, mortgages were the most likely to be declined (34%).
  • The New Zealand Government has acknowledged that student debt is a “push factor” for increasing emigration, as people with student debt move overseas to avoid repaying their debt, or to earn higher salaries with which to make their debt repayments. Between 1997-1998 and 1999-2000, nearly 4 per cent of the total New Zealand professional workforce emigrated to Australia alone.

In 2000, the number of Australian-born people emigrating from Australia was the highest ever recorded, having doubled since 1995. These people were more likely to be aged 25-34 years, and more likely to be moving to the USA, Singapore and Canada – destinations which indicate that employment was a major motivator for emigration.

Student debt is not just an issue that affects students and their families. As doctors, lawyers, dentists and vets accrue increasing amounts of debt for their degrees, compulsory debt repayments will compel them to increase the fees they charge their clients.

All Australian taxpayers will have to pay the costs associated with an ageing population, as student debt restricts the number of children that families can afford to raise and contributes to more graduates leaving Australia. An ageing population will mean that public spending on health, housing, aged care and superannuation will increase at the same time as the working-age population funding this spending through taxation decreases.

Before student debt is considered as a policy solution for inadequate public investment in higher education, the wider social and economic impact of this debt should be researched and monitored.

CAPA believes that increasing student debt is not an appropriate substitute for public investment in higher education.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

Minister Nelson released the Government’s higher education reform package on 13 May 2003, which is outlined in the policy paper Our Universities: Backing Australia’s Future. The paper outlines the Government’s higher education direction for the next ten years, although the paper predominantly focuses on funding and reform for the next four years.

This CAPA briefing paper examines the elements of the reform package that will have a direct impact on postgraduate students. Please be aware that there are numerous elements of the package which do not effect postgraduate students, such as the Commonwealth Learning Scholarships Programme for full-time undergraduate students or the Overseas Higher Education Loan Programme (OS-HELP) for undergraduate students.

This briefing paper discusses major changes to university funding that will affect all students. It then analyses the consequences of the reform package for:

  • postgraduate coursework students in full fee paying places,
  • postgraduate coursework students in HECS places,
  • postgraduate research students,
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders postgraduate students
  • international postgraduate students,
  • postgraduate students at regional campuses,
  • postgraduate representation on university governing bodies,
  • postgraduate associations.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

Distance education increases access to postgraduate study for students who would not otherwise be able to attend a university campus. This briefing paper discusses the educational experience of external postgraduate students, describing the difficulties they may encounter due to their distance from the university and suggesting strategies for their support. The scope of this paper has been directed by CAPA Action Policy for 2003: The CAPA Research Officer will produce a briefing paper on the educational experience of off-campus and distance postgraduate students.

The paper will discuss the difference between the experience of on-campus and off-campus students, and will discuss the support needs of off-campus students. The briefing paper will also highlight the difficulties faced by distance education students, particularly in terms of access to university resources and facilities, and instances of additional charges levied on off-campus students by their institution. All CAPA constituents will supply information on policies relating to off-campus students at their University to the CAPA Research Officer.

Where appropriate, constituents will also supply examples of additional fees levied on distance education students by their University, or information about off-campus students’ access to university resources and facilities. The paper will make recommendations for university policies to support off-campus and distance education students. These recommendations will be used by postgraduate associations to lobby for more supportive policies for off-campus and distance education students at their universities.

The recommendations will also be used by the CAPA Executive to lobby the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (AV-CC) and the Deans and Directors of Graduate Study (DDOGS).  Each section of this paper examines a particular area of concern for external students, and provides suggestions to remedy these concerns. The discussion of each issue is informed both by distance education literature and by information provided by postgraduate student associations around the country, often in the form of surveys of their members or policies relating to distance education at their university. Before these issues are examined, the paper defines what is meant by ‘distance education’ and related terms, and briefly identifies the current external postgraduate student cohort.

Attachment: CAPA Paper

In August, the Department of Education, Science and Training announced its long-awaited review of the policy package Knowledge and Innovation, which incorporates the Research Training Scheme (RTS). This Briefing Paper is intended to assist CAPA constituents who wish to make a submission to the review, but may not be familiar with the background and details of the RTS. The inquiry’s terms of reference are included at the back of this document, followed by a brief list of web resources.


In June 1999 David Kemp, then Minister for Education, released a policy discussion paper, New Knowledge, New Opportunities (The ‘Research Green Paper’). The paper contained the radical proposal for making postgraduate research degrees ‘portable’ by tying funding to the student rather than the institution, as well as a proposal to levy real rates of interest on student loans. These suggestions were rejected by CAPA, the NTEU and other sector groups, and sustained lobbying saw the removal of voucher-style funding and loan interest from the final policy document Knowledge and Innovation: a Policy Statement on Research and Research Training (the ‘Research White Paper’), released in December 1999.

However, even stripped of the controversial voucher system, the new policy aroused widespread concern. The policy’s postgraduate research funding scheme, the Research Training Scheme (RTS)–which has now been in place since 2001–reduced government funding for research degrees from 5 to 4 years for a PhD and to 2 years for a Masters, as well as introducing ‘performance based’ funding. CAPA has been especially sceptical of this funding mechanism, arguing that it focuses on outcomes (RHD completions; numbers of publications; ability to attract outside funding) which are unrelated to quality (for example satisfaction of research students or quality of research facilities; standing of journals publishing work or number of citations gained by a publication; research innovation).

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Attachment: CAPA Paper

In 1990 DEET designated six equity groups, including students from rural and isolated areas, for targeted action to increase these students’ access to tertiary education. The strategies, set out in the policy paper A Fair Chance for All, were focused heavily on improving distance education as a means of raising higher education participation for rural and isolated students. Other strategies included improving awareness of tertiary education opportunities in high-school students, and the creation of what we now call ‘alternative entry pathways,’ or bridging courses, credit transfers, and non-traditional entry arrangements. A Fair Chance for All also encouraged the development of programs to assist these students with accommodation. This assistance, however, was focused on accommodation in halls of residence and colleges– the needs of older or postgraduate students, who often have families, were not mentioned.

Interestingly, since the introduction of A Fair Chance For All in 1990, little gain has been made in terms of increased enrolments of rural and isolated students. For example, DEST statistics show that rural students made up 19.37% of total new enrolments in 1992, and 19.51% in 2000.

For postgraduate students from rural and isolated areas the picture is essentially the same (see chart 1). Total postgraduate enrolments for rural students have hovered around 16,000 students nationally between 1996 and 2002, and total enrolments for postgraduates from isolated areas have dropped to 1788 in 2002 from 1981 in 1996. (Total postgraduate enrolments were 155,312 in 2002.)

Students from rural and isolated areas are often neglected as a higher education equity group. Frequently confused with distance education students, rural and isolated students are those whose permanent home address lies within the Rural, Remote and Urban Areas classification specified under the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia, or ARIA. This classification of postcodes as either urban, rural or remote is in turn derived from 1996 census data from the ABS.

The needs of rural and isolated students tend to be considered only as the apply to undergraduates–indeed the research for this paper did not turn up any studies on the rural and isolated postgraduate experience. Nor is there centralised support for rural and isolated postgraduates. Government schemes tend to be directed either at rural regions, or rural undergraduates. Postgraduates from rural and isolated areas must either attend a local rural university–if there is one, pick up and move at their own cost (unless they are lucky enough to win a scholarship which covers moving costs), or study by distance mode. Around half choose the latter option.

A far greater proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students than non-Indigenous students live in rural or remote areas. In 2001, 31.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were classified as rural students, in comparison with 18.4% of non-Indigenous students. In the same year, 15.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were classified as remote students, in comparison with only 1.3% of non-Indigenous students.

Rural and Isolated students must not be collapsed into the distance education category as a matter of course. The two categories are quite distinct. For example, a student could be studying at the University of Sydney through distance education methods, and be based in Melbourne, but would obviously not fit within the Rural and Isolated equity category. Further, a student from a capital city studying at a regional campus would not be considered rural or isolated (their home address being metropolitan), unless they moved to the rural area to undertake study, and changed their postal address.

Rural and isolated students are, therefore:

  1. students who come from rural and remote areas studying at either metropolitan universities or regional universities, AND
  2. distance students studying remotely when they are based in rural or isolated areas

Attachment: CAPA Submission

CAPA, the national peak body representing Australia’s 226,612 postgraduate students, welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Senate’s Inquiry into the Government’s proposed budget changes to higher education. Having concurred with the findings of the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Reference Committee report on higher education, Universities in Crisis, regarding the urgent need for increased public investment in the Australian higher education system, CAPA is disappointed by the insufficient additional funding announced by the Government.

Australian students and their families already pay more for their education than most countries in the OECD, and under this package they will pay even more, through HECS deregulation, extension of up-front fee-paying places, and the introduction of interest rates for FEE-HELP loans.

In this submission, we focus on the terms of reference set by the Committee specifically as they apply to postgraduate