2004 – Election 2004: Issues for Postgraduates

Attachment: CAPA Paper

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations is the peak body representing Australia’s 247,315 postgraduate students. CAPA believes in free, accessible education which allows everyone to reach their full intellectual potential. We believe education is a right, not a privilege.

Australians need to be able to access education throughout their lives. As more jobs require greater qualifications, it becomes increasingly important that citizens are not barred from achieving their potential through an inability to pay, or a need to enter into substantial levels of debt. Further, education must be accessible and affordable not just for these reasons of equity, but because an educated population benefits the whole of society, through the creation of new knowledge and applications, through the enrichment of culture, and through the sustained critique of policy and practice provided by a vibrant academic community.

Government must invest more in higher education. The current government has reduced funding by around five billion dollars since coming to office. The failure to properly index universities’ operating grants to keep up with the wage increases of university staff has eroded this funding base even more, resulting in larger classes and diminishing resources, as well as an inability to attract the best researchers and teachers into academe.

The current government has placed an ever increasing proportion of the cost of higher education on the student. On coming to power in 1996, the current government slashed HECS places in postgraduate coursework and deregulated fees. Around 130,000 Australian postgraduates now pay full fees, as well over 76,000 international students.

Most postgraduates are ineligible for income support such as Austudy. Only around 12% of research students receive a government scholarship. For partime students (who must either be carers or suffering from a medical condition) scholarships are taxed. CAPA believes there should be a decent level of income support for all those engaged in study. Further, all students should be able to access transport concessions, Rent Assistance, and other such schemes.

CAPA believes that Australia’s cultural and economic future is closely tied to its research output. We believe that government must focus its research investment on basic and public good research. We do not believe that the only valuable research is commercial research.

Postgraduates undertake 70% of university research, yet their intellectual property rights are not uniformly protected, and they are unable to access most Commonwealth research funding directly. This must change.

Finally, CAPA believes in student control of students affairs. We reject the notion of socalled ‘voluntary student unionism’. Like most in the university sector, we recognise that student associations are a valuable part of our universities, providing services and support for students, by students.

Stephen Horton
CAPA President