15 December 2015 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed to see that the 2015 – 16 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) forecasts more cuts to the Department of Education and Training budget which target university students.
The MYEFO shows a $10M cut to the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships Program over 3 years and a $20.8M cut to the Higher Education Participation Program (HEPP) over two years from 2016 -17 increased from an original $5M cut in the May 2015 budget.
‘While large amounts of money are being put back in to fund Innovation, Research and Development critical higher education support programs are being cut’ said Harry Rolf, National President.
Higher Education Participation Program funding helps universities undertake programs to improve access for people from low SES backgrounds, students with disabilities, ATSI students, and other disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘This kind of support is essential, these students have the odds stacked against them. The programs help students from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed at university when they may otherwise have not. This cut is just another blow to students with a high barriers to entry’.
Recently Student Start-up Scholarships have been cut in favour of income contingent loans. A decision that will leave university students who need financial support for text books and other materials up to $2,050 more in debt per year.
‘These cuts do not speak to an agenda where the best and brightest are able to participate in higher education, they raise the barriers to entry and heap financial burden on those people who can least afford it. When students and young people have been identified as playing a key role in Australia’s Innovation Future, the Government needs to be investing more in access and opportunities not less’ Concluded Harry Rolf.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) condemns the Australian Government and the Labor Party for supporting the cutting of Student Start-up Scholarships, a move that will further disadvantages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Students.
The Start-up Scholarships, introduced in 2010, enables students to access up to $2,050 a year in funding for books, computers and other study related items. The funding vital to Low-SES students will be replaced in 2015 with a low-income HECS-style loan scheme. Making a 2 year masters degree $4100 dearer or a 3 year PhD $6150 more expensive.
“This government has a neo-liberal agenda that obviously puts profits before people,” said NATSIPA President Sharlene Leroy-Dyer. “If this government and Labor are serious about closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage, then education should be a priority”.
The Start-up Scholarships are vital to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate students as the majority are mature age students supporting families. This leaves very little funds for basic “Start-up” resources, therefore without the ‘Start-up” scholarship many students will not have the resources needed to ensure positive yearly outcomes.
With the introduction of the loan scheme students will now be faced with tough decision of going into further debt or missing out on vital study needs.
“We seem to be going on an unpleasantly familiar merry-go-round,” said NATSIPA Vice-President Sadie Heckenberg, referring to the Student Financial Supplement Scheme introduced in 1993 and scrapped 10 years later in 2003. “Why bring something back in that has failed and been dumped before, and that disadvantages students?”
This change to student funding is another nail in the coffin for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Students who in 2014 faced harsh cuts to ITAS funding and severe restrictions to overseas research travel under new ABSTUDY rules.
This government needs to reversed this decision, stop making itself look good and start caring for those most vulnerable in our country
Sharlene Leroy-Dyer / President / firstname.lastname@example.org
7 December 2015 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the Governments Innovation Statement. CAPA is pleased to see that $127M will be put back into the Research Block Grants, and that $13M in funding will help create more opportunities for women to pursue careers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
‘But if the government is serious about improving participation in STEM disciplines more than $13M will be required to shift the prevailing culture and attitude. A fundamental cultural shift needs to occur, one that will require ongoing commitment over a significant period of time to reverse the current gap in participation’ Said Harry Rolf, the National President.
2014 higher education enrolment data available from the Department of Education and Training shows that in 2014 only 16% of domestic students were female, and only 22% of overseas students.
|Field of study||Domestic Students||Overseas Students|
|Engineering and Related Technologies||85%||15%||81%||19%|
Table 1: 2014 student enrolments, Department of Education and Training – Higher Education Statistics Data Cube (uCube)
‘Similarly $127M in additional funding for research and research training is an important step forward, but it is only a small step towards restoring research funding cut over successive budgets. CAPA also has concerns about how the proposed Research Training Programme linked to this additional funding will be implemented’.
The Research Training Programme will likely replace existing Research Block Grant schemes including the Research Training Scheme (RTS), Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) and the International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) scheme.
‘The motivation is to give universities flexible research training funds, allowing them to address issues such as inadequate scholarship rates, their duration, availability and the full cost of research training. The proposed change would give universities flexibility to increase the funding per Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidate, but with no minimum standards set the opposite may also be true. Universities may provide less support per HDR candidate’.
A potential driver for such behaviour is that, while research quality, engagement and HDR candidate completions will be used to determine funding rates, there is no clear indicator of quality research training.
‘Currently there is no measure for quality in research training applied to funding formula. This is an opportunity to include a measure of quality in the distribution of research training funds. Otherwise funding will continue to be driven by the rate of HDR completions and a universities research income’.
‘The announcement today shows a willingness by Government to engage with these challenges and CAPA is optimistic that the Government will continue to engage on these initiatives. We are willing to take the Minister for Education and Training up on his offer to consult with key stakeholders about the plan to replace the existing suite of research block grants with a simpler, more transparent system’ Concluded Harry Rolf.
4 December 2015 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed to see the scrapping of Student Start-up Scholarships in favour of income contingent loans, a move that will increase the debt of students who need this support by $2,050 a year.
The Start-up Scholarship scheme was originally setup to improve access to higher education by reducing the burden of up-front study related costs such as text books, photocopying, computers, internet access, and other equipment.
‘This cut targets vulnerable students, those students already relying on income support payments such as Youth Allowance or Austudy and who need further assistance with the up-front costs of a degree course. In particular it will hurt Coursework Masters students studying professionally oriented courses such as Teaching, Counselling. Psychology, Accounting and IT to name only a few fields’ said Harry Rolf, the National President.
Previously in the 2014-15 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) $103.9M of funding allocated to extend Austudy support to all Coursework Masters students starting 2017 was cut from the federal budget. As a result only Coursework Masters students undertaking approved courses, those deemed to be the fastest or only pathway for gaining professional employment are eligible for Austudy.
‘This makes Coursework Masters students particularly vulnerable, there is limited commonwealth support for their fees and costs. At a time when transferable skills, employability and industry engagement are top priorities for higher education, cutting support form students undertaking professional courses is just a poor decision’ concluded Harry Rolf.
4 December 2015 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is frustrated by the lazy recommendations for research training put forward by the report on Research Policy and Funding Arrangements (a.k.a. the Watt review). The report has failed to address key concerns raised by CAPA in its submission, the need to develop better measures for quality research training, that research income is not sensitive to the activity of research training and that minimum standards must be set if the use of research training funds are deregulated.
‘To our great disappointment the report proceeds by recommending that the three research training funding schemes, the Research Training Scheme (RTS), the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA), and the International Postgraduate Research Scholarships scheme (IPRS) be lumped into one ‘flexible’ pool. It goes on to recommend deregulation of the rules governing those schemes, but provides no thought as to how the serious issues this will create are to be handled’ said Harry Rolf the National President.
CAPA supports the limited deregulation of the APA scheme, where the current stipend rate of $25,849 pa is below both the minimum wage and the poverty line.
‘Giving universities flexibility to increase stipends, the discretion to offer then to part-time postgraduates and increase their duration and amount are all good outcomes. But complete deregulation could see universities dropping the rates and durations even lower or cutting part-time arrangements all together. Minimum standards must be set for the allocation of research training funds towards scholarships and resources for postgraduates’.
Further the report recommends that the funding formula be changed from 40% Student Completions, 50% Research Income, 10% Publications to 50% Student Completions and 50% Research Income.
While CAPA agrees with the justification that publications are not an effective measure of the research training environment within a university neither is research income. High level research income data from the HERDC is not sensitive to research training, and quality research is not a clear indicator of quality research training.
‘For the formula to be appropriate it must include a measure of quality for research training. Quality can take many forms, but four key areas are consistently cited, supervision, minimum resources, collegial environment and access to research funding. The reality is that the busiest most successful researchers may have the least time and resources to provide high quality research training’.
The 50:50 weighting of HERDC income Category 1 and Category 2-4 recommended for the measurement of Research Income by the report is also not sensitive to the activities of postgraduate students. Many postgraduate students collaborate extensively during their degrees, they publish papers, work within a university, with industry and may even end up generating Intellectual Property if they have not already left to commercialise their research.
‘The point here is that none of this activity is captured by research income data, the contributions of postgraduate students, a possible indicator of quality training outcomes is completely overlooked. One place where this contribution can be seen and measured is through publications, where co-author networks and their affiliations provide detailed insights into the engagement taking place. Attending conferences to present a publication also creates engagement, but if the incentive for postgraduates to publish is diminished then it follows that so too will this engagement’.
‘It is our view that if changes are to be made to research training they must address the issues at hand, the current system is not broken but it could easily be. CAPA has over 35 years of collective experience relating directly to research training in Australia, I would hope that our concerns are taken seriously by the sector and in any decisions that are made’ Concluded Harry Rolf.
Australia’s innovation future depends on students
4 December 2015 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is pleased to finally see the report from the Senate inquiry into Australia’s Innovation System and that the report recognises the important role of students and young people in Australia’s Innovation Future.
CAPA welcomes many of the report’s recommendations, including the proposed student venture fund and the five strategic action areas, particularly the proposal of a National Science, Research and Innovation Foundation (NSRIF) and the establishment of Doctoral Training Centres. But CAPA is very concerned by the proposal for an ‘integrated national tertiary education system’.
‘A proposal which sees Universities and VET institutions joined at the hip or forced to amalgamate would irreversibly damage higher education in Australia’ Said Harry Rolf the National President.
‘Instead integration must mean an approach to the system that is holistic, which respects the system and its various parts, and that recognises it also interacts with other systems. To put that in context the Tertiary Education System, the Innovation System and the Research Training System (RTS) are not mutually exclusive, they interact extensively as do their various parts’.
‘The RTS plays an important role in bridging parts of these systems, postgraduates on one hand are students, but also trainees, teachers or researchers depending on the nature of their projects and their work commitments. Their omission from the report is perhaps justified by the ongoing review of Australia’s Research Training System but it is not systematic or helpful to consider these reviews in isolation. A holistic approach must be taken, one that recognises postgraduate students. Properly supported Doctoral Training Centres would certainly be a step in the right direction’.
‘It is also good to see the report place emphasis on the importance of digital literacy, but there are some serious challenges in this space – none more significant than the gender participation gap in Information Technology. According to 2014 higher education enrolment data for the field of Information Technology only 16% of domestic enrolments were female students, and only 21% of overseas students. This figure speaks volumes about the challenges ahead, particularly if digital literacy is an important aspect of social inclusion as the report suggests’ concluded Harry Rolf.