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
As predicted by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations shortly before the September 2013 federal election, tonight’s budget has shown the Coalition taking an axe to the Australian Research Council (ARC) and potentially politicising the way ARC grants are funded.
The Australian Research Council will be charged an “efficiency dividend” of $74.9 million over three years, in one of the most significant individual cuts to higher education and research in the 2014-15 Federal Budget.
The budget papers do not say what aspects of the ARC’s functions will be impacted by the cut or where the $74.9 million will go, saying merely that it will be “directed to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities”.
“It is inconceivable that Joe Hockey can claim in one breath to be investing in research excellence, and then in another take away $74.9 million from one of Australia’s most significant research funding bodies” Ms Hopper said.
“The Coalition may not see research funding as a policy priority, but it’s investing in the knowledge future of our nation” said Ms Hopper.
Elsewhere in the budget, funding for research initiatives – including the Antarctic Gateway Partnership (University of Tasmania, CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of the Environment) – is achieved through the “reprioritisation” of existing ARC funding.
“We bear no ill-will toward the medical and environmental research projects that have been funded tonight, but Joe Hockey needs to spell out where that funding has come from within the ARC budget” said Ms Hopper.
“’Re-prioritisation’ sounds a little bit too close to ‘political intervention into how peer-reviewed research is funded’ to me – we need more research funding, not a shifting of the boundaries on current research” Ms Hopper said.
The Coalition has slashed Indigenous and low-SES enrolment targets and will provide no extra funding towards supporting students from equity backgrounds, with universities required to contribute to a scholarship pool using the extra fees that they charge students.
$1 of every $5 of additional revenue raised by higher education providers from deregulated fees will be used to set up an unspecified number of Commonwealth scholarships of unspecified size, meaning that students will effectively fund their own equity scholarships.
“Students who need support the most are being left behind by Joe Hockey’s horror budget – and what’s worse, Hockey is claiming to provide more opportunity for low-SES and rural students while he’s making them foot the bill for their own scholarships” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“It’s insulting that Joe Hockey thinks students from low-SES and rural backgrounds aren’t intelligent enough to see through his diversionary tactics” said Ms Hopper.
While the budget documents claim that access for students from equity backgrounds will be improved as a result of HELP being implemented across study providers, Ms Hopper argued that the trade-off – fee deregulation and a greater fee burden on students – would create an enormous obstacle.
“It’s easy for the Coalition to dismiss debt, but for students from first-in-family, rural and low-SES backgrounds the thought of a lifetime of debt is a real and insurmountable obstacle to higher education” Ms Meghan Hopper said.
CAPA Vice President (Equity) Sadie Heckenberg, an Indigenous, rural student who is a 2014 Fulbright Scholarship recipient and a PhD candidate at the University of South Australia, said that had the new fee model been in place ten years ago it may have frozen her out of tertiary study.
“I completed a sub-degree course, a Bachelors degree and Honours, and am now completing my PhD” Ms Heckenberg said.
“The thought of having each of those degrees placed on HELP, including my PhD, with each of the fees dramatically increased – I don’t know how I could ever have paid that back” said Ms Heckenberg.
Ms Hopper, a first-in-family student, echoed Ms Heckenberg’s concerns, saying many of her peers at a low-SES government school were deterred from tertiary study by the idea of debt.
“The Coalition can sell it however they like, but the bottom line is: fee deregulation is a user-pays, richest-takes-all system which will freeze poorer students out of our best universities” Ms Hopper said.
Joe Hockey’s first Federal Budget is a shocking shopping list of cuts to higher education and research funding, with funding reductions totalling close to $1.9 billion and almost no new funding for research or universities.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has compiled a list of cuts to the higher education sector featured in the 2014-15 Federal Budget.
HOCKEY’S HIGHER ED CUTS
|Reduction||Program||Timeframe||When it Starts|
|$1.1 BILLION||Fee Deregulation and Re-Distribution of CSP on to Students||3 years||1 January 2016|
|$202.8 million||HELP Indexation to move to CPI||3 years||2015-16|
|$173.7 million||RTS Funding Cut, Introduction of FEE-HELP||3 years||1 January 2016|
|$121.1 million||Cut Higher Education Reward Funding||5 years||2014 on|
|$87.1 million||Removing HECS-HELP Benefit on Skills Shortage Courses||3 years||2015-16|
|$74.9 million||3.25% “efficiency dividend” on Australian Research Council||3 years||2015-16|
|$51.3 million||Consolidation of Higher Ed Participation & Partnerships||4 years||2014-15|
|$31.1 million||Cuts to Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (TEQSA)||4 years||2014-15|
|$29.8 million||Reversing Improving Educational Outcomes Program||Immediate||2013-14|
|$6.4 million||End the H.C. Coombs Policy Forum||4 years||2014-15|
|$3.2 million||Reduction in HELP repayment threshold, readjustment of indexation||4 years||2014-15|
“You don’t need a postgraduate degree to see that this budget sucks for students” said President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Ms Meghan Hopper. “This a budget with unprecedented consequences for students, researchers and educators at all levels of the higher education sector.”
Student debt is set to escalate dramatically as a result of tonight’s horror budget, with a series of hard-hitting changes to the way universities are funded:
“You don’t need a postgraduate degree to see that this budget sucks for students” said Meghan Hopper, President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.
“Joe Hockey’s Horror Budget has unprecedented consequences for students, researchers and educators at all levels of the higher education sector” said Ms Hopper.
“We’re saying goodbye to a knowledge economy and issuing in an uncomfortably ignorant Australia by shifting funding of higher education on to the student, slashing research centres and putting research degrees on FEE-HELP” Ms Hopper said.
In practically the only new funding granted to the higher education sector, the Coalition has announced it will conduct three surveys on the student experience and will revamp the brand new MyUniversity website. The cost of these surveys is not provided in the budget papers.
“This disaster budget asks students to foot the bill for their own equity scholarships, giving $1 out of every extra $5 their university adds to their lifetime debt under fee deregulation” Ms Hopper said.
“The Coalition claims they are supporting students when in fact they are forcing universities to charge students more, to support themselves” said Ms Hopper.
“But the good news is, Generous Joe has found some spare funds to conduct a survey and build yet another MyUniversity website – at least would-be students will be fully briefed on the courses they can’t afford to take” Ms Hopper said.
“I don’t need to wait for Joe’s survey results to be announced to know what students will think of his changes to higher education and research funding” Ms Hopper said.
Higher Degree by Research students will be asked to foot the bill for their Masters and PhD qualifications, with the Research Training Scheme to be slashed by $173.7 million and RTS places added to the HELP scheme from 1 January 2016.
Masters by Research and PhD students will contribute up to $3,900 toward their studies from 2016, in an unprecedented change to Australia’s research funding that has left postgraduates totally blind-sided.
“When I turned the page and saw that RTS funding would be cut and research students asked to pay HELP fees, I actually gasped out loud – this has come out of nowhere, it’s completely unexpected” said President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Ms Meghan Hopper.
“Funding research degrees is a contribution to the future of our country, to the training of our knowledge leaders – it is horrifying that the Coalition doesn’t see it that way” Ms Hopper said.
Budget papers describe the cuts of close to $200 million as research students making “a modest contribution towards the cost of their degree through a small reduction in Government funding for the RTS”.
Ms Hopper said that the off-handed manner in which the Coalition approached these dramatic changes to research student funding demonstrated a lack of respect for Australia’s research sector and future research leaders.
“This is a slap in the face to Australia’s best and brightest, the future leaders of our research sector and the educators of our next generation of university students” said Ms Hopper.
“Joe Hockey claims that the Coalition wants to build a world-class higher education system, but he’s placing yet another obstacle in the way of our next generation of researchers and educators” Ms Hopper said.
Ms Hopper said that the budget papers were incredibly vague, failing to provide information on whether RTS changes will apply immediately to current students as well as future students.
“The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations will be demanding answers from the Coalition about how these changes to the Research Training Scheme will be implemented and what impact they will have on current and future research students” Ms Hopper said.