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.