Saturday October 11th marked National Coming Out Day as well as the last day of Australian Mental Health Week.
In the past week, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) has run a social media campaign to raise the awareness of mental illness amongst postgraduate students.
On average, one in ten postgraduate students experience anxiety, and one in four young Australians are likely to experience mental illness in a given year. This is further exacerbated by the sense of isolation experienced during one’s postgraduate years and the lack of appropriate services in our Universities to deal with mental illness for specific equity groups.
“International students leave behind family and friends and face isolation in Australia. Fortunately, when things get rough, there is help available” said Walter Robles, CAPA International Students Officer.
CAPA also acknowledges those people who have taken the opportunity to come out this weekend in light of National Coming Out Day.
“Mental health is compounded for LGBTI students who experience institutionalised discrimination from their universities and a lack understanding of LGBTI-specific issues in the mental health sector” Angelus Morningstar, CAPA Queer Officer said.
“In today’s society where women continue to face increasing inequalities across a range of social structural and psycho-social spheres, it is critical that women are able to seek support and guidance that is relevant and sensitive to their circumstances” said CAPA Women’s Officer Erin Lynn.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students suffer from mental illness due to grief and loss caused by dispossession, cultural dislocation, stolen generations, and removal from family, discrimination and racism, trauma and abuse, and social disadvantage. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are three times more likely to feel high or very high levels of psychological distress and are more than twice as likely to be hospitalised for ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ than were other Australians” Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, NIPAAC Liaison Officer said.
If you are experiencing a loss of social and emotional well-being please contact beyondblue, Lifeline, your state’s Gay and Lesbian support service, your university counseling service or your local mental health service.
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 / http://www.beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline: 13 11 14 / https://www.lifeline.org.au
Thank you to Senators of the Committee for inviting the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations to appear in relation to our submission into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations is Australia’s longest continuously-operating national student peak body and represents over 325,000 postgraduate coursework and Higher Degree by Research students, in conjunction with thirty affiliate student organisations at Universities across Australia. Our role is to provide a national voice for postgraduate and research students, to keep them abreast of the policy that affects them, and to represent them to Government, industry, and to the sector.
The largest of those affiliate organisations is the Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Melbourne, and with me today I have Mr James Smith, President of the Graduate Students’ Association, who is able to provide the perspective of postgraduate students on campus, as I provide the perspective of postgraduate students nationally.
We have presented to the Inquiry a twenty-seven page submission of our concerns with the Bill and related changes to higher education policy, and this submission covers a range of policy areas. For the purpose of today we would like to focus on the following key areas of concern for postgraduate students: cuts to the Research Training Scheme of $174.7 million or 10 per cent overall; the proposal to introduce the ability for Universities to charge fees on Higher Degrees by Research of up to $3,900 per year; and indexation of HELP debt interest against the 10 Year Bond Rate up to a maximum of 6 per cent.
The Government’s argument in proposing this package of changes has been that graduates of higher education can expect strong correlating employment and payment outcomes. Where postgraduates and the introduction of fees on research degrees is concerned however, this is increasingly not a claim that stands up to fact.
On September 17 this year, the Australian Financial Review reported that whilst enrolment figures for domestic postgraduate by coursework students have increased 25 per cent in the last five years, graduate outcomes for Masters by Coursework students are the worst on record at 17.9 per cent unemployment on average, 19.6 per cent for women. Put simply, there are not enough jobs for the number of postgraduate coursework students that Australia is training, and this will continue to be further exacerbated by examples such as “the Melbourne Model” and at the University of Western Australia, where students are required to undertake postgraduate study on top of a generalist undergraduate degree to qualify in a professional field.
Coming to higher degrees by research, a report by the Australian Council Of Learned Academies (ACOLA) in 2012 found that those surveyed ranked “working on interesting and important issues” as their greatest motivation in pursuing a research career, and yet uncertain job prospects, short-term contracts and unrealistic work-loads were major drawbacks to participation in the research workforce. PhD students already say they do not have enough support to do a PhD, with stipends, where they are available, being cited as too low, funding to attend conferences minimal, and too much pressure placed on them to complete in too short a period of time.
The NTEU has repeatedly found that the academic workforce is subject to increased casualisation and workplace uncertainty and yet we know that academic careers remain the goal for an overwhelming quantity of higher degree by research students.
Australian industry is still not predisposed to engage PhD graduates and there is not enough incentive provided for them to do so. Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb identified a possible “link between the number of researchers employed in industry, and the perception industry has of universities’ ability to prepare their graduates,” noting that 59% of Australian businesses feel that Universities and schools adequately prepare tomorrow’s innovative leaders, and arguing that “there is a large divide between our most academically qualified citizens– our PhD graduates – and the industries that fuel our economy”.
A 2010 report by Brailsford into the motivations of PhD students determined that “Limited financial support was important in the decision-making process. Without funding it is questionable whether the ‘pull’ of the doctorate would have out-weighed the ‘push’ from the former career.”
The full-time PhD experience is an isolating one with increasing uncertainty of employment outcome and no guarantee of scholarship support. A PhD student chooses to weather these pitfalls in order to contribute to the nation’s knowledge in a unique field of research. To add an extra hurdle by charging fees on research degrees will only further discourage our potential future research leaders. This change at its very essence, embodies charging individuals to come to work.
The changes to the Research Training Scheme are amongst the very few in this package that impact on students regardless of enrolment date. The profound unfairness of charging fees on students who enrolled prior to the announcement of these changes is so obvious as to barely require acknowledgement.
We strongly reject the Minister’s attempts to publicly hold Senators and the sector to ransom by threatening cuts to research in the event that deregulation is unsuccessful. On October 2, the Minister said in Question Time that “The simple fact is that if these reforms are not passed … The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme [NCRIS] … will not continue, meaning that terrific research infrastructure will not be rolled out in our universities. The Future Fellowships scheme, which is a scholarship for midcareer researchers … will not go ahead … That means that the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Future Fellowships will end.” On August 24 Fairfax reported that the Minister had refused to rule out research cuts without reform. This has placed already worried research students, seeking future research careers, in a profound state of stress and uncertainty.
We also express our strong concern around changes to the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme and to ABSTUDY and AUSTUDY and with the poor publicity of, and consultation around, those changes, and whilst we know that the representatives joining us today on the phone from the National Indigenous Postgraduate Association Aboriginal Corporation will discuss these impacts I would welcome the opportunity to touch upon this further in response to questions.
In closing, we wish to put on the public record our disappointment with the absence of any consultation by the Government, with student leaders, in relation to the Bill prior to this point.
Universities have a number of stakeholders to whom they answer. At the end of the day however, students are the number one stakeholder cohort to whom higher education providers, and higher education policy makers, are responsible. With the exception of certain political party youth wings, the changes embodied by the Bill have been uniformly rejected by students, and this is evident in the fifteen submissions to this Inquiry made by student representative groups and peak bodies.
We ask Senate representatives to reflect on this today and to act in the best interest of the end user of higher education, the student, in choosing to reject this Bill. Thank you.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has made a twenty-seven page submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Higher Education and Research Reform Amendment Bill 2014, covering their opposition to a number of key policies including cuts to the Research Training Scheme, the introduction of fees on higher degrees by research, indexation on HECS-HELP debts of up to 6 per cent, and changes to ABSTUDY and AUSTUDY and the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme which will disproportionately impact on rural and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
You can read the full submission HERE.
“With the Government refusing to respond to feedback from student leaders, this Senate Inquiry has been our first real opportunity to have our grave concerns around the Budget measures heard and responded to” said President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Ms Meghan Hopper.
Key points from CAPA’s submission:
In concluding CAPA’s submission, Ms Hopper said that the process had failed to engage with existing reviews of the higher education sector, or to consult with student leaders, from start to finish.
“The Minister for Education should be taking as his basis for reforms to the Higher Education sector, not the bottom line that happens to appear on this year’s Budget or the media grabs provided by the cohorts within the sector that are financially benefited by the introduction of fee deregulation, but the expert views of representatives commissioned by prior Governments with the specific task of reforming the Higher Education sector. ”
“These reviews each provide an in-depth, long-term vision for higher education in Australia and whilst we do not agree with all of their recommendations, we believe that they provide the foundation for real and considered change.”
“To ignore these important contributions by life-long educators and higher education reformers, in deference to a Budget package that was rushed out by a Minister in his first year following no attempted consultation with the sector and no engagement with the standing evidence, is complete folly.”
The submission incorporates feedback from thousands of current and prospective postgraduate students gathered as part of CAPA’s ‘No Fees on PhDs’ campaign.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has expressed its strong condemnation of proposed government funding cuts to the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS), with their Vice President (Equity) saying the program was “vital” to her education.
“ITAS was vital to my education,” said Vice President (Equity) of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and 2014 Indigenous Fulbright Scholar, Sadie Heckenberg. “I had ITAS tutors in primary school, secondary school and in my first years of University. “
“I can say with absolute certainty that without ITAS I would be nowhere near where I am today” Ms Heckenberg said.
Since its introduction in 1993 ITAS has been a vital source of support to Indigenous students from kindergarten right through to postgraduate studies, and has improved Indigenous parity within Australian Universities.
Universities currently receive funding for ITAS based on their number of enrolled Indigenous students. Each student is given the opportunity to have a qualified tutor for two hours per week per subject.
The Government is proposing to replace the ITAS program from 2015 with a competitive grants process.
The sudden announcement has put major pressure on Indigenous centres and organizations, many of whom may miss out on funding if they are unable to make a submission by the closing date of October 7th.
President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Meghan Hopper said that a recent tour of remote and regional campuses had demonstrated to her the success of ITAS.
“Just days before the Government proposal to cut ITAS funding emerged I had the great pleasure of touring a number of small and regional campuses with significant Indigenous student populations and Indigenous research centres, including the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Charles Darwin University, James Cook University, the University of South Australia and the University of Sunshine Coast” Ms Hopper said.
“Time and time again academics, students and student support workers at these institutions reaffirmed the value of the current ITAS program” said Ms Hopper.
“The previous Government undertook a significant review into Higher Education access and outcomes for Indigenous people in 2012, chaired by Professor Larissa Behrendt – nowhere in that review was it proposed to turn the funding of ITAS into a competitive grant process” Ms Hopper said.
“This Government needs to stop making it up as they go along, and instead look at the research and the recommendations of experts as they make funding decisions around access and equity in the higher education sector” said Ms Hopper.
Ms Heckenberg, who next week will travel to the University of Hawai’I to undertake research in Indigenous oral histories and languages as part of her Fulbright scholarship, said that the changes to ITAS would have a profound effect on the next generation of Indigenous students.
“Having also been an ITAS tutor in my later years of university I have seen time and time again the wonderful effects this scheme has on students. I am so appalled and saddened that the government cares so little for Indigenous students”, said Ms Heckenberg.
Higher Education Spokesperson for the Australian Greens, Senator Lee Rhiannon yesterday tabled a motion in the Federal Senate praising the role of student unions in campus life and calling on Macquarie University to end legal action against seven of its postgraduate students.
Whilst the motion, which was debated Wednesday afternoon at 4pm, was unsuccessful, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations Meghan Hopper said that it drew critical attention to the plight of the postgraduate students who have come to be known as the “Macquarie 7”.
“Macquarie University’s legal action against seven of its own student leaders sets a really dangerous precedent in the relationship between student unions and their Universities, so to see Greens Higher Education Spokesperson, Senator Lee Rhiannon acknowledge that and bring national attention to the case through a motion in the Senate is very important” said Ms Hopper.
“Since the Macquarie 7 began to receive notice to appear in Court last week, there has been an outpouring of support from around the country from students, academics, trade unions, and from parliamentary spokespeople including Senator Lee Rhiannon, and we feel that has helped the students a lot” Ms Hopper said.
“What Macquarie University is putting these student leaders through is wrong, it is obviously deeply distressing to the students involved, and we are very hopeful that Macquarie will withdraw its legal action and reach an outcome which secures genuine, democratic and independent student representation for Macquarie students” Ms Hopper said.
Macquarie University is taking seven of its own postgraduate students to the Supreme Court on September 3rd in an attempt to forcibly wind up the seventeen-year-old Macquarie University Postgraduate Student Association and seize over $500,000 in assets accrued through student memberships prior to the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism. They are also seeking legal costs.
The Executive of the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association has not had access to its own bank account since December 20, 2013 when the University sought a freeze on the account through the National Australia Bank.
Two of the students involved in the Court case are international students. Over twenty-nine per cent of Macquarie’s students are international students, one of the highest proportions of any Australian University.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has acquired pro bono legal advice for the Macquarie 7 and is also handling all media inquiries on behalf of the students.
Student organisations provide important services for students across Australia, including child care, counselling, sports representation and advocacy. The Howard government’s reforms were devastating for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds who relied on the provision of many of these services. While the student services and amenities fee went some way towards redressing the lack of service provision, its major weakness has always been the fact that independent student organisations have not been guaranteed funding. Macquarie University’s legal attack on ‘the Macquarie seven’—the board of the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association—is unprecedented. As the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations points out, the issue is an important test case. It is important for those of us who support independent, vibrant, democratic student organisations to stand up against attacks like this, otherwise they may start becoming a common occurrence.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne has continued to push ahead with the highly unpopular introduction of fees on PhD and Masters by Research programs for domestic students as part of his Higher Education and Research Reform Bill, tabled in the Lower House today.
The President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Meghan Hopper, together with the Vice President (Equity), Sadie Heckenberg, today marked the occasion of the tabling of the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill by visiting Christopher Pyne’s Adelaide office, where they submitted a petition of over 2,500 signatures calling on the Minister to reverse his decision to cut the Research Training Scheme by $174.7 million and to allow the introduction of fees on research degrees of up to $3,900 per year.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has received commitments from The Australian Labor Party, The Greens and members of the Palmer United Party that they will not be supporting the introduction of fees on research degrees, and so the policy is not expected to pass the Senate.
However, the Minister is in a position to make cuts to the Research Training Scheme without needing to go to the Senate for approval, meaning that PhD and Masters by Research students could find funding to their programs slashed with Universities having no means to make up the shortfall.
“It’s time for Minister Pyne to admit that he got this one wrong and go back to the drawing board. His lack of consultation with the sector and with the users of higher education – the students – is evident in these harmful, unpopular, slapdash policies” Ms Hopper said.
“He would be better off starting again and actually taking the time to consult with students and educators rather than continuing to flog a dead horse, as the saying goes” Ms Hopper said.
“Christopher Pyne was hoping he could get away with sneaking through a dramatic Budget cut to the Research Training Scheme and the introduction of fees on research degrees, but the No Fees on PhDs campaign spearheaded by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has proven that this policy is hugely unpopular, with more than 2,500 students, academics and supporters petitioning the Minister and the Parliament to reverse it” Ms Hopper said.
“We delivered that petition to Christopher Pyne’s Adelaide office today shortly after he tabled the Higher Education and Research Reform Bill in Parliament, and we look forward to him reading the comments from students within that petition and to him realising how deeply unpopular this policy is” said Ms Hopper.
Ms Hopper said that the introduction of fees on research degrees was equivalent to asking our best and brightest researchers to pay to come to work.
“To be accepted into a PhD is an acknowledgement that the student is amongst the very best and brightest in their field, capable of contributing to a unique field of knowledge. The Research Training Scheme, which currently allows Universities to offer PhD studies free to domestic students, has always been an acknowledgement of that fact” said Ms Hopper.
“The cuts to the Research Training Scheme and the introduction of fees on research degrees are an attack on our future research leaders and our future academic workforce and we are looking forward to seeing the Senate reject these policies in the strongest possible terms” Ms Hopper said.
“Postgraduate students are also strongly opposed to the increase in interest rates on HELP debts of up to 6 per cent, which will have a particularly adverse impact on those who choose to price themselves out of repayments whilst undertaking further study” said Ms Hopper.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has called on Education Minister Christopher Pyne to explain why student leaders are being removed from Government-linked committees, after a letter sent to him more than five weeks ago has remained unanswered.
The Presidents of the peak bodies representing Australia’s student population, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and the National Union of Students, have not been invited back to two Government committees they sat on prior to the election of the Abbott Government – and Minister Pyne has yet to explain why.
“The Presidents of both the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations and the National Union of Students have sat on the Office for Learning and Teaching’s Awards Standing Committee since its inception, but this year neither organisation has been invited back” Ms Hopper said.
“When I sought further information as to why we had not been invited to be part of the OLT Awards Standing Committee in 2014, I was advised that ‘All the positions in all the committees in 2014 are up for review and decision by the Government’” Ms Hopper said.
“That was back in June and nominations for the Awards closed in May, so it certainly looks like this Government has no place for student leaders on the panel that determines awards for excellence in teaching and learning” said Ms Hopper.
Ms Hopper said that she and the President of the National Union of Students had also previously sat on the National Advisory Group on Higher Education Data and Information (NAGHEDI), but had not been invited to participate in the reference group that replaced it.
“We received advice from the Department on July 11th that following the establishment of the TEQSA Advisory Council, it had been decided that the NAGHEDI would be replaced by a Higher Education Data Committee. The letter thanked me for my service on the NAGHEDI but said nothing about how postgraduate students would be represented on the new Committee” Ms Hopper said.
“I wrote to Minister Pyne on July 16th seeking a response around why his Department appeared to be eroding consultation with student leaders on their Committees and five weeks’ later, I am yet to hear from him” said Ms Hopper.
“This is part of a larger concern that the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has with Christopher Pyne refusing to consult with students on any of the plans his new Government has for higher education” Ms Hopper said.
“Then, after months of ignoring student leaders, on Sunday he insults us and tells us to ‘get some perspective’. He keeps arguing that students shouldn’t be protesting the higher education Budget cuts but then he won’t give us any other method of communicating with him” said Ms Hopper.
“He won’t speak to us. He won’t hear from us. This cavalier response to the students Christopher Pyne is asking to pay for his higher education reforms is a disgrace.”
Seven Macquarie University postgraduate students elected to represent their peers have in the last few days been served with instructions to appear at the Supreme Court of New South Wales on September 3, 2014 to defend themselves against the University where they are currently studying, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has revealed.
Macquarie University is asking the Supreme Court to forcibly wind up Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association (MUPRA), to appoint a liquidator, to distribute the net assets of MUPRA – which sit at approximately $500,000 – to Macquarie University, and that Macquarie University be awarded costs.
Because MUPRA is not an incorporated association, the elected members of its current Executive are listed as individual defendants to Macquarie University’s application.
“We are gravely concerned about the potential implications that this case will have not just for our friends at Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association, but for independent student unions at campuses across Australia and indeed, the concept of independent unionism itself” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“This craven and cynical attack on seven of Macquarie University’s own students, students who put their hands up to represent their peers and who are now being punished for that act, can not be tolerated and must be fought vigorously by all those who value unionism and student advocacy” Ms Hopper said.
Macquarie University has established an ‘Advisory Board’ which they are arguing should replace MUPRA. The Chair of the Advisory Board is appointed by the University Chancellor and is not directly elected.
“If a Court accepts that it is appropriate for a University to simply replace a union with an ‘advisory body’ Chaired by a person hand-picked by the University and directly responsible to the Chancellor, that will be a tragic step in the history of student unionism in Australia and will send a very dangerous message about independent representation and advocacy” Ms Hopper said.
“Student unions at their core exist to provide independent representation for students to the Universities that they pay fees to. To claim that a University can represent students against the University is just a furphy and it’s an obvious violation of the very notion of unionism” Ms Hopper said.
Ms Hopper said that it was particularly alarming that the University was seeking costs.
“The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations is committed to assisting the seven students involved in whatever way we can – we are currently speaking to lawyers to ensure that this case is vigorously defended and once we have a sense of the potential costs to the individuals involved, we will be arranging fundraisers to assist with those” Ms Hopper said.
Ms Hopper said that the case was a blatant grab at money that MUPRA had wisely saved and invested over many years to protect themselves against Voluntary Student Unionism and diminished support from their University.
On December 20 2013, the National Australia Bank placed a freeze on MUPRA’s bank account in response to a request from Macquarie University, meaning that MUPRA has been without access to funds to operate or adequately defend itself against legal action since that time.
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I could not believe that any University could provide funds to a student association without a service level agreement and then, several years later, say ‘actually, we’re not satisfied with the fact that you saved some of that money to protect against diminished funding in later years, we’re going to order you to give it all back now’” Ms Hopper said.
“Of the $500,000 that Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association currently has held in a bank account that they can no longer access, some of that money was earned through frugal investment in high interest bank accounts and through the offering of events and services” said Ms Hopper.
“Macquarie is not even proposing to redistribute MUPRA’s funds toward student advocacy and representation, but will instead use it for postgraduate scholarships” Ms Hopper said.
“What kind of University goes to these lengths against their own students for the sake of half a million dollars?”
Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations
Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie has today pledged her support for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations’ campaign to stop cuts to the Research Training Scheme and fees on PhDs, in a move that all but guarantees that the Budget measure will not pass the Senate.
In her first meeting with an Australian student peak body, Senator Lambie sat down with CAPA President Meghan Hopper in Canberra today to reaffirm her party’s commitment against university fees and in favour of improved student consultation.
“We are thrilled to receive Senator Jacqui Lambie’s strong support for our No Fees on PhDs campaign today and know that with the support of the crossbench, we will be able to stop Christopher Pyne’s proposed cuts to the Research Training Scheme” said President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Meghan Hopper.
“These cuts of $174m to the Research Training Scheme, which add up to 10 per cent of the pool of funding for domestic students to undertake PhDs and Masters by Research, would have a terrible impact on Australia’s research economy and would place a roadblock in the way of Australia’s future research leaders” Ms Hopper said.
“As a result of these dramatic cuts, Universities would be given no choice but to charge fees on PhDs and Masters by Research of up to $3900 a year – a move that Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie has indicated she will oppose, in line with her Party’s opposition to university fees” Ms Hopper said.
“Our No Fees on PhDs campaign has already had the support of Labor Party and Greens Senators, who have pledged to vote against the Research Training Scheme cuts on our website www.capa.edu.au/newfee; but now to have the confirmed support of an influential cross-bench Senator is exactly the outcome we needed to stop this terrible Budget policy” said Ms Hopper.
Senator Lambie recently joined the National Tertiary Education Union’s campaign against deregulation but had not previously made any statements specific to the Research Training Scheme or fees on PhDs.
Ms Hopper also discussed proposed changes to the Student Services and Amenities Fee with Senator Lambie and shared some of the outcomes of CAPA’s soon-to-be-released Save Our SSAF survey of over 500 postgraduate and research students from across Australia.
“Senator Lambie indicated very strongly that she believes more consultation needs to be undertaken with the end user of higher education – the student – and that she welcomes the contribution of bodies like the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations to the discussion around changes to the higher education sector” Ms Hopper said.
In a letter received today by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Industry Senator Kim Carr has confirmed that all Labor Senators will be voting against fees on PhDs.
“In a big win for CAPA’s No Fees on PhDs campaign, the Labor Party has now confirmed that all of their Senators will be voting against cuts to the Research Training Scheme that would result in the introduction of fees on PhDs” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“Whilst the Labor Party has been vocal on opposing deregulation of undergraduate fees, this is a very welcome, unilateral statement from their Higher Education Spokesperson, Senator Kim Carr that they will also be opposing a huge hit to our best and brightest, our research workforce of the future, in the form of fees on PhDs” said Ms Hopper.
In his letter to the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Senator Carr said that the proposed changes to the Research Training Scheme were “an assault on equality of opportunity in this country”.
“Engaging in full-time postgraduate research already requires considerable personal sacrifice and hardship, especially for those who have families to support and are aware of the greater earning power of their contemporaries in the workforce” said Senator Carr.
“Labor will do everything possible to prevent changes to higher education funding that might compel postgraduate research students to make such a choice” Senator Carr said.
Ms Hopper said that having received the support of the Australian Labor Party as well as a number of Greens Senators, CAPA’s focus would now be on securing cross-bench support.
“At this point we are yet to receive a response from any cross-bench Senators, and we have also not heard from members of the Coalition in response to our valid concerns about the impact of cuts to the Research Training Scheme” Ms Hopper said.
“We will shortly be encouraging our members to follow up with any Senators who have not provided a response and to just ask them to make their position clear” said Ms Hopper.
Over 2,000 people have so far signed CAPA’s petition against fees on research degrees.
Follow the campaign and the list of Senator pledges at www.capa.edu.au/newfee
Senator James McGrath has demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) legislation in his first speech to the Senate, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has said, with the new Senator incorrectly claiming that the policy is the same as Compulsory Student Unionism.
Senator McGrath has vowed to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to repeal the Student Services and Amenities Fee, wrongly referring to the policy as “Compulsory Student Unionism, or SSAF as it is now called” and claiming that SSAF “is an attack on the fundamental freedom of association”.
“The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations appreciates that Senator McGrath is new to his role and may not yet have had the opportunity to read the Student Services and Amenities Fee Legislation in full” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“Fortunately we were provided with the opportunity to consult extensively on the review of the Student Services and Amenities Fee that was conducted by the previous Government in 2013, and so we are able to comprehensively assure Senator McGrath that the SSAF – sadly – bears no resemblance to Compulsory Student Unionism” Ms Hopper said.
Voluntary Student Unionism was introduced in 2005 under the Howard Government, Ms Hopper noted, and student unionism has remained voluntary since that time. The Student Services and Amenities Fee is collected and distributed by Universities, who determine whether to provide funding to student unions and associations based on consultations set against a range of legislative criteria.
“Obviously postgraduate student associations were better off under Compulsory Student Unionism so we wish it were still in place, but that simply isn’t the case” said Ms Hopper.
“Indeed, section 19-67 (4) of the Legislation specifically states that universities cannot be required to fund an organisation of students and so it is fully up to universities to determine whether they provide SSAF funding to a student union, how much funding they will provide, and what services that funding is spent on” said Ms Hopper.
In September 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly rebuked Education Minister Christopher Pyne over comments that he would seek to abolish the Student Services and Amenities Fee, saying “this is not a priority for us and we have no plans for change in this area at this time”. Members of The Nationals have previously indicated support for the Student Services and Amenities Fee, with Nationals MPs elected in seats that contain some of Australia’s largest regional university campuses including the University of New England, Southern Cross University, and Federation University’s Gippsland campus.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has been undertaking a survey of postgraduate students around how they use student services and amenities, and will deliver the findings to members of the new Senate by the end of August.
“While we suspect that Senator McGrath’s bizarre claims around the Student Services and Amenities Fee may be a ploy to distract students from the Government’s damaging funding cuts to universities – including the introduction of fees on PhDs and cuts to the Research Training Scheme, which we are already actively campaigning against – the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations will embrace this opportunity to discuss the SSAF with new Senators and to fully brief them on the benefits it has delivered to students, particularly at small and regional campuses” Ms Hopper said.
“The former Government undertook a balanced and thorough review of the Student Services and Amenities Fee in 2013, in consultation with student bodies like the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, and we call on the Abbott Government to see that review through and to implement its recommendations” Ms Hopper said.
Ms Hopper said that she would be consulting with Queensland campuses in the coming days over how best to respond to Senator McGrath.
May 15, 2014
Research students have flooded the Council of Australian Postgraduate Association’s website and social media following the announcement of cuts to the Research Training Scheme which will force students to foot the bill for the first time, with web traffic crashing the peak body’s portal on Wednesday.
The announcement in Tuesday’s budget that domestic PhD and Masters by Research students would be changed fees for the first time has been seized upon by worried postgrads who feel that the dramatic shift has been hidden by the Government and ignored by the media.
“Research students were paying $0 under the Research Training Scheme. They will now be asked to pay up to $3,900. I hate to state the obvious, but that’s a really dramatic change to the way we fund our research and it’s something we should all be talking about” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“There are currently 60,000 PhD and Masters by Research students in Australia. While the $3,900 payment doesn’t apply to every student, it’s an enormous shift from current policy, an enormous cost, and postgraduates are speaking out” Ms Hopper said.
The $3,900 payment will apply to students in courses the Government has determined to be “high cost”, including such critical research fields as medicine, science, and engineering. Students completing PhDs or Masters by Research in fields such as the humanities and education will be charged up to $1,700.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Association has written to the Department seeking clarification as to whether the fees will apply to existing students as well as incoming students when they are introduced on January 1, 2016.
The President of the Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Melbourne, Jim Smith, said Australia’s future research leaders would be put off by the introduction of fees.
“The Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Melbourne represents 5,000 PhD and Masters by Research students who will be devastated by these cuts to the Research Training Scheme” Mr Smith said.
“Research students have never had to pay HELP before so asking them to do so now is a terrible blow.”
On the Council of Australian Postgraduate Association’s website, a student named Jessica said she would now choose to study overseas rather than contribute to Australia’s knowledge economy.
“Was trying to find the right Uni to do my PhD with based in Australia because I felt strongly about contributing to our nation’s body of research” Jessica said.
“As of yesterday I have decided to do my PhD with a University in Belgium where the total cost, even for an international student, is 250 euro. There is nothing to even think twice about.”
Research students have also voiced their outrage on a petition started by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations to oppose the fee hikes and the cuts to the Research Training Scheme.
“This is insane, education is a human right! Where am I even going to get $4,000?!?” asked Rebecca Riley.
You can sign CAPA’s petition calling on members of the Opposition and the incoming Senate cross-bench to vote to reverse RTS fees and cuts at