The quality of research training must be recognised in research funding

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed to see calls by other peak bodies in higher education for changes to the allocation formula of performance based block grant funding that may potentially subvert the purpose for which funding is intended.

In 2015 the Research Training Scheme (RTS), and Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) accounted for more than 50% of the block grant funding available to universities. Calls for research block grant funding to be divided along the lines of research engagement, commercialisation or Excellence in Research for Australia framework (ERA) scores are ignoring the purpose for which this funding is intended, to train high quality research postgraduates.

“The ERA may be an excellent measure of research quality, but it contains no measure of quality for research training, there is no clear evidence to suggest that an ERA score of 3 or even 5 is an indication of high quality training” Said the National President Harry Rolf.

High level measures of research engagement such as the ERA or the Research Engagement for Australia (REA) being developed by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) overlook the contribution of postgraduate students to research.

Research postgraduates are likely to work on projects which engage end users and form collaborations between universities and other organisations. But this engagement is not visible in high level income data, or even in the current allocation of research training funds.

“If the objective is to drive research engagement, or commercial returns then research postgraduates who in 2012 made up 57% of the human resources dedicated to Research and Development (R&D) in the higher education sector must not be overlooked in a conversation about research funding”.

“Quality of research training, graduate outcomes or the contributions made to research during training might usefully be included in block grant funding formula to enhance these outcomes and support research postgraduates”.

CAPA wants to see the value of postgraduate students receive greater attention in research policy and funding arrangements as well as by universities. For example a research postgraduate undertaking a Thesis-By-Publication produces their thesis as a series of publications in peer-reviewed journals. This model is becoming increasingly popular, and in some disciplines is a requirement. But in this model the postgraduate is producing research work that also benefits their institution financially.

“This scenario raises several important questions, what proportion of publications counted by the ERA can be attributed to research postgraduates? Should this behaviour be encouraged, should research postgraduates be compensated for this research work, and controversially are they at risk of being exploited”?
CAPA is convinced that research postgraduates have an important role to play, more than just students they are active members of a universities research workforce even before graduation. But this contribution must receive greater recognition.

“By recognising the contribution of research postgraduates the benefits can be encouraged, they can form part of a conversation about quality research training. These issues and opportunities are further outlined in our submission to the Watt review of Research Policy and Funding Arrangements” Concluded Mr Rolf.

Attachment: MEDIA RELEASE The quality of research training must be recognised in research funding

Media Contact:

Harry Rolf | National President |
Caitlin Bruty | Media Officer |

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the appointment of Senator Simon Birmingham as the new Minister for Education and Training. In doing so CAPA calls on the Minister to address, as a priority, the financial uncertainty currently undermining Australia’s higher

education sector by taking the Government’s higher education and research reforms off the table.

“As long as rejected higher education and research reforms remain in limbo, reforms that were originally intended to fix financial problems are only exacerbating the financial stress felt by universities”. Said the National President Harry Rolf.

“The current reform package must be taken off the table and universities given assurance that cuts proposed as part of those reforms such as a 10% cut to the Research Training Scheme (RTS) will no longer be pursued”.

CAPA is optimistic that such a move would allow for a new plan to be developed in light of over 15 months of stakeholder feedback. One that could also take into account the outcomes of multiple reviews being undertaken by the Department of Education and Training, including those from the Review of Australia’s Innovation System by the Department of Industry and Science.

“This is an opportunity to work collaboratively with higher education stakeholders, including student groups who have previously been overlooked. It is a chance to improve a plans linkages with other objectives such as driving innovation in Australia”. Concluded Mr Rolf.

As the peak body representing Australia’s 340,000+ postgraduate students a major stakeholder group in higher education, CAPA looks forward to working with Minister Birmingham, and contributing to an improved plan for higher education in Australia.

Attachment: MEDIA RELEASE CAPA welcomes the new Minister for Education and Training

Media Contact:

Harry Rolf | National President |
Caitlin Bruty | Media Officer |

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is encouraged by the Opposition’s higher education policy announcement today which recognises the value of higher education and invests in the students of Australia.

A commitment to fund the existing system and to develop policy through consultation with higher education stakeholders, including student groups, are important steps towards ensuring stability and certainty for Australia’s Higher Education System.

“An approach to funding which focuses on the outputs and outcomes of higher education must be informed by evidence, it is good to see initiatives such as a productivity and performance commission which can put a focus on the collection, dissemination and use of data to inform policy and decision making’ said the National President Harry Rolf.

“Policy that recognises the value of higher education to the economy, and the value of education to students is important. Improving access and completion rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is critical if it is to drive social mobility”.

“But a comprehensive plan will need to pay attention to all parts of the system. Pathways and preparation for higher education, into research training and research also need to be looked at if issues like retention, employability and the diverse career pathways of students are to be dealt with”. Concluded Mr Rolf.

CAPA hopes that the announcement today will be the start of a positive national conversation about investment in higher education. CAPA looks forward to contributing towards the development of a comprehensive plan for Australia’s higher education system.

Attachment: MEDIA RELEASE Towards a comprehensive plan for Australia’s higher education system

Media Contact:

Harry Rolf | National President |
Caitlin Bruty | Media Officer |

Attachment: CAPA Submission

After reviewing the research policy and funding arrangements review discussion paper CAPA believes that there is room for improvement in current policy and funding arrangements for research and research training in Australia. However it is the opinion of CAPA that major structural change is not currently necessary, and that more evidence is required before it could be considered. Many of the issues raised in regards to current research funding arrangements extend from insufficient funding of the current system rather than from the funding structures themselves.

CAPA understands that in a constrained funding environment flexibility of existing funding and the ability to pursue or generate additional funding streams are important. There are only so many ways that the current funding quantum can be sliced but the quality and integrity of the current system must not be compromised in this pursuit. With that in mind this submission address areas in which CAPA considers there to be room for improvement.

Key Recommendations 

  1. The research training scheme funding must be equivalent to the real cost of training research students
  2. APA grants to be provided to Higher Education Providers as a pool to allow allocation per student to be decided by the HEP with the provision that no grant can be less than minimum wage and must still be paid to students fortnightly.
  3. A greater number of Commonwealth Supported Placements to be extended to Masters level courses allowing for an increased pool of students to enter research training.
  4. Models of Cooperative Education must receive greater support and recognition in Australia’s Research Training System, it is worth examining the current state of these programs in Australia at a postgraduate level.

Information pertaining to the Review can be found on The Department of Education and Training site.

ATTACHMENT: SUBMISSION made 20th February 2015

Due to serious, fundamental issues of inequality and disadvantage which continue to remain in the Higher Education and Research Reform (HERR) bill 2014 CAPA recommends that the bill be rejected. The more severe issues linked to the HERR bill that are particularly offensive to CAPA include:

  • The proposal to reduce government funding of the Research Training Scheme (RTS) by $173.7M over 3 years equivalent to 10% per year
  • The proposal to introduce a fee on research degrees, allowing a university to charge postgraduate students up to $3,900 per year
  • That these fees will be applied to students that were enrolled prior to their announcement, and that the monies raised are not required to fund research training.
  • The scrapping of the participation targets for Indigenous students and students from low-SES backgrounds
  • There are no guidelines in place for equity scholarships which will be funded by the students
  • Forcing students to foot the bill for their own equity scholarships
  • The complete lack of consultation, and disregard for student feedback.

CAPA is particularly concerned that a 10% cut to the RTS scheme combined with a fee of upto $3,900 pa will force current and aspiring postgraduates to choose between decades of debt or a life in poverty when studying for a Masters by Research of Doctorate (PhD) degree at an Australian university.

ATTACHMENT: Submission made 29 May 2015

In 2013 over 30% of all postgraduate students enrolling in Australian Universities were overseas students. The number of overseas students has been growing steadily over the last decade in Australia as universities and other educators have increasingly sought to engage globally and tap into the international student market.

For CAPA this trend is a positive direction for education in Australia, overseas students benefit not just the Australian economy but also society through the social and cultural contributions they make while living here. The experience also benefits the students by exposing them to Australian society and culture – while giving them in most cases a high quality education experience. A strong international education plan is essential to the future of the Australian higher education sector.

Our feedback shall focus on postgraduate students and their place in the National Strategy for International Education. A summary of our key points is as follows:

  • Research training and postgraduate students must play a greater role in the National Strategy for International Education,
  • greater support for postgraduate student mobility is needed beyond Endeavour Mobility Grants. Indigenous students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds should be included,
  • with proper support postgraduate students can be Australia’s ambassadors for international education, and
  • addressing student wellbeing, improving VISA arrangements, and IELTS quality outcomes must be priority strategic actions.

To view all submission please go to the Department of Education and Training website

ATTACHMENT: Submission made 4 September 2015

We live in a society where educational attainment increasingly means the difference between employment or unemployment and welfare dependence. We cannot ignore that more people than ever before are enrolling in higher education and that even more will be in the future. With more people than ever before attending university broad national issues are going to have an impact university students and the penalty rates matter is currently one of those issues.

Penalty rates are an issue for university student in Australia, and those undertaking postgraduate level qualification from Coursework Masters to Doctoral (PhD) degrees. The challenges facing these students are many, but in this case it is the complex relationship between income support, work and study in the lives of postgraduate students which we will focus on.

Both work and study can be immensely stressful, short deadlines and long hours are a common feature of challenging and rewarding pursuit. But to work and study together can turn a manageable arrangement in a disaster.

This report presents information on a number of key issues in regards to the Penalty Rates Common Matter AM 2014 305 and its importance to postgraduate students, three key arguments will be made:

  1. That the diversity of the postgraduate student cohort means that it will be impacted by a change in penalty rates.
  2. That postgraduates at all levels are in need of better income support arrangements in Australia, and when this is lacking they must balance a life of work and study.
  3. Postgraduate students are already struggling the balance the inflexible requirements of work and study, changes to income streams such as penalty rates will make this even more difficult.

To support these arguments a small exploratory study has also been conducted and its results are included in the report. The study involved collecting case studies of students who are currently beneficiaries of penalty rates and require them in order to continue their studies. The report is structured as follows:

  • Postgraduates are not your average student
  • Postgraduate under financial stress
  • Work-study balance is a struggle
  • Case studies of current postgraduates
  • Conclusions

All submissions can be found on the Fair Work Commissions website

ATTACHMENT: Submission made 31 August 2015 

This submission covers a wide range of topics within the remit of the review and the research questions prepared for consultation. There are significant gaps in our knowledge about current approaches to research training in Australia, and we hope that by highlighting these issues a more robust evidence approach can be used to improve research training in Australia. Key points are as follows:

  • Comparable evidence of core competency outcomes and outputs must be collected from current PhD and other research training programs in Australia.
  • Australia already has a robust approach which can facilitate to inclusion of transferable skills into research training, but it could benefit from programs which look as raising awareness, or co-ordinated schemes between higher education institutions and industry.
  • The diversity of postgraduate students and the lives of individuals must be consider when facilitating the acquisition of skills, experience and capabilities in research training.
  • When determining what stakeholders such as employers need from graduates we must improve our approach to issues like graduate employability in a similar way to how the issue is being tackled for undergraduates and international students.
  • CAPA has continuing concerns that changes to the funding of the research training or a push to focus research on industry led initiatives will damage what is currently a system that competes well in a global market.
  • More must be done to enable access and inclusion of disadvantaged groups’ particularly indigenous students in research degree.

All submissions will be available on the ACOLA website