MEDIA RELEASE: More pain for Australian research in brutal MYEFO cuts

More pain for Australian research in brutal MYEFO cuts

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) condemns the Federal Government’s decision to slash research funding as confirmed in the 2018/19 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) released this morning.

This MYEFO gives more evidence of what this government has already demonstrated: that it does not value research or consider postgraduate education and the benefits it brings to Australia to be a priority. Proceeding with the short-sighted decision to decrease research payments by $328.5 million over four years is setting Australian research up for failure.

We are dismayed that some of this funding has been redirected into vote-buying, with $92.5 million pledged to increasing enrolments at universities in marginal seats – the very same universities who will be struggling to fund research thanks to these cuts.

The decision to slash research funding has come from a government which is openly hostile to universities. This funding cut must be considered in context of the Government’s other cuts to higher education over the past year, including the university funding freeze and lowering the student loan repayment threshold.

“These decisions have been made by a struggling Coalition desperate to buy votes ahead of the looming election – risking long-term consequences to the Australian economy as our research output lags behind,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“This government has shown they will cut at university funding until there is nothing left.”

CAPA furthermore calls on the Labor party to commit to reversing the funding cuts and dedicate more resources to research, should they form government in next year’s election.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA supports Greens’ commitments to postgrads

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the Australian Greens’ higher education policies, released today, which outline a fair and robust higher education system.

We strongly agree with all elements of the new policy package, particularly the reforms to study entitlements to include postgraduate students. Their policies include the extension of Austudy to all domestic full-time postgraduate students – a solution that CAPA has proposed through our Income Support for Postgrads campaign.

We applaud the inclusion of a policy on insecure work in universities, which would link federal funding to employment conditions of staff. Many postgraduate research students are precariously employed as teaching and research assistants in universities.

CAPA furthermore calls on Labor and the Coalition to reconsider their own higher education policies ahead of the 2019 federal election, with the Greens policies acting as a benchmark in this space.

“The Greens have listened to students and higher education workers in forming their higher education agenda, resulting in a sophisticated suite of policies which we hope will precipitate better policy from the other major parties,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA condemns Government’s attack on student representation

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is appalled to hear that Senator McGrath has, on one of the last sitting days of the year, moved a notice of motion for yet another attack on the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) and on the funding of student bodies and representation.

The member organisations of CAPA unanimously moved a motion during the recently concluded Annual Council Meeting, condemning this move by the government and reinstating CAPA’s support for and commitment to properly funded student representation, for which SSAF should be considered the minimum standard.

This is the latest move by the Government to signal their ideological opposition to universities. Over the past year, we have seen unrelenting funding cuts to research and universities, capstoned by the ARC funding scandal, as well as measures to rip money directly from students. The move to introduce voluntary student unionism signals that the Government wishes to disempower students from being able to effectively speak out against their actions towards universities and students. The introduction of voluntary student unionism would also mean the defunding of student rights services, which assist students who have experienced difficulties or disputes with their university.

“Cutting SSAF will mean the end of services which are beneficial to students’ wellbeing and their experience at university. SSAF is used to fund counselling, student rights and legal services at universities, as well as student associations which are an essential part of university landscape,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“It is appalling that conservative voices in parliament which to see the end of these services due to their inherited, nonsensical ideological opposition to SSAF.”

Motion: that Council notes with disappointment the notice of motion raised by the government in the senate to launch yet another attack on SSAF, and reinstates our commitment to properly funded student representation.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA and NATSIPA strengthen ties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate student representation

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is proud to continue our close working relationship with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA), empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices on postgraduate issues.

We welcome Victoria Van Schie as CAPA’s 2019 NATSIPA Liaison Officer. The NATSIPA Liaison Officer is appointed by NATSIPA to be a member of the CAPA Executive committee and ensures that our two organisations are both well-placed to advocate on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate students.

CAPA furthermore thanks our 2018 NATSIPA Liaison Officer, Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, for her years of service to CAPA. We welcome her continued contributions, as she has also been appointed to the working group for implementation of CAPA’s new governance structure.

Finally, we extend our sincere thanks to the 2018 NATSIPA President, Dr Sadie Heckenberg, for her work with both organisations. We look forward to continued collaboration with NATSIPA under their incoming 2019 President, Gina Masterton.

NATSIPA National President Dr Sadie Heckenberg says, “NATSIPA greatly values our close ties with CAPA and their diverse team. Working together has meant greater representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate students, and I have valued my time with both NATSIPA and CAPA.”

CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams says, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postgraduate students experience unique challenges and opportunities, and we seek to continue working with NATSIPA in support of the wellbeing of this cohort.”

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

2019 CAPA Office Bearers Elected

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is delighted to announce that a talented and enthusiastic team of national office bearers have been elected by our member organisations for 2019.

CAPA is proud to have successfully concluded its 2018 Annual Council Meeting, hosted at the University of Newcastle by its postgraduate representative body, Newcastle University Postgraduate Students Association. The conference included structural changes to the organisation including a modified and empowered executive body.

The 2019 executive is as follows:

President – Natasha Abrahams
General Secretary/Vice-President – Rachel Brisbane
Policy and Research Advisor – Owen Myles
Media Officer – Zoë Tulip
Women’s Officer – Romana-Rea Begicevic
International Officer – Devendra Singh
Disabilities Officer – Marguerite Biasatti
Queer Officer – Lauren Taylor
NATSIPA Liaison Officer – Victoria Van Schie

CAPA looks forward to implementing the 2019 goals, with a particular focus on mental health advocacy and campaigning on the financial challenges faced by postgraduate students. We are excited to continue our ongoing work, standing up for postgraduate students across the country with the new team.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA rejects proposal to cut funding for postgrad degrees

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) opposes the Government’s proposal to slash funding for postgraduate coursework degrees.

Over two thirds of domestic postgraduate coursework students already pay full fees. In other words, the Government does not contribute to the cost of their education through a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP). The majority of postgraduate coursework students are paying huge amounts of money for their degrees, which are overwhelmingly undertaken as a professional entry requirement or to improve employment prospects. As admitted by the Department in their discussion paper, there is “currently little basis to the allocation of CSPs”.

The Government previously announced that they will gut the number of Government-subsidised places by 3000 – close to five percent of the current allocation. The Department is doing the dirty work of conducting a review to decide which postgraduate courses will fall victim to the cuts.

While in general it is good to examine higher education policy and funding allocations, CAPA is cautious of the outcomes of this review given the large swathes of funding cuts announced to universities over the past year. We believe that policy changes should be made based on evidence, rather than on blindly cutting costs to achieve short-term benefits to the bottom line.

Reducing – rather than increasing – the number of postgraduate CSPs ignores the economic landscape in which students are increasingly having to undertake postgraduate degrees. This is in part due to the rise of the ‘Melbourne model’ in which students undertake a generalist undergraduate degree followed by a professional Masters degree. Our research – conducted jointly with the National Union of Students, University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association, and University of Western Australia Student Guild – found that typical fee costs for popular study combinations under the Melbourne model are between $70,000 and $120,000. Cutting CSPs will mean that more students will be forced into a position of paying extortionate sums for their education.

“Like many other higher education funding cuts over the past year, cutting 3000 student places will have a relatively small impact on the Government’s coffers, but a large harmful impact on affected individuals,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“We furthermore caution against cuts to enabling courses, which facilitate preparation and entry to university study for those who do not meet the entry requirements. Reducing accessibility to these courses caps opportunity for vulnerable Australians who wish to undertake an education and improve their employment prospects.”

CAPA will be lodging a submission in response to the Department of Education’s discussion paper.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

Culture wars provoked with Tehan’s pointless free speech review, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is perplexed that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has ordered a review into free speech at university campuses.

We are concerned that conservative commentators have stirred an uproar over a non-issue in order to attack universities. One would think that the Government has learnt its lesson in not listening to the bleatings of a loud and unrepresentative few. However, Minister Tehan has legitimised the false narrative of attacks on free speech by ordering an enquiry.

There is no threat to free speech on university campuses. Universities are traditionally a place of robust discourse and radical thought. In recent months, student protesters speaking out against views they disagree with have been characterised as attacks on free speech.

CAPA strongly believes in the right of students to organise and express their views. We disagree that this type of expression is preventing free speech of more conservative views; rather, it is a way of engaging and arguing against these views.

For example, in August, students at the University of Western Australia argued against the views of a prominent speaker they criticised for being transphobic. In articulating why they believed the views to be damaging and outdated, they exercised their right to free speech. The university eventually cancelled the venue booked for the event (citing a failure of organisers to provide the necessary paperwork) which does not prevent the event being held elsewhere. However, this is the type of discourse which commentators have pointed to as being examples of challenges to free speech.

Similar panics about suppression of conservative viewpoints have recently occurred in England and the United States, despite a stunning lack of evidence for there being a problem. It is concerning that Minister Tehan is leading Australia to follow into the culture wars.

“The review is contrived, pointless, and a total waste of taxpayer money at a time when students and universities are being told to do their bit for ‘budget repair’,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“Like many of the Government’s recent actions in higher education policy and funding, this review is emblematic of their increasingly blatant disdain for education and research in Australia.”

Furthermore, this review comes just weeks after it was revealed that the former Minister for Education secretly vetoed eleven humanities and social sciences projects which had been awarded funding by the Australian Research Council. If the Government is concerned about free speech in universities, we suggest that they first examine their own clandestine actions designed to constrain intellectual inquiry.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA condemns Government’s latest attack on research

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is deeply disappointed in the news that the Government will slash research funding in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

The cuts to research block grants are the latest assault on scientific inquiry in Australia. Research block grants are in two buckets: the Research Training Program (RTP) that provides stipends to research students, and the Research Support Program which contributes to the cost of conducting research. The Minister has indicated that the cuts will come from a freeze on the Research Support Program.

This announcement comes just weeks after it was revealed that the former Minister for Education vetoed research funding for eleven successful Australian Research Council (ARC) applications in the humanities and social sciences. This was followed by the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, doubling down on his predecessor’s error in judgment by demanding the ARC introduce a national interest test for applicants, which adds no value to the existing application process but may be used to further political interests.

As the peak representative body for postgraduate students, CAPA is concerned that the cuts will impact the working conditions of doctoral students, who form the backbone of Australia’s research efforts – contributing the majority of research-hours performed in universities, and often doing the grunt work on their supervisors’ projects.

With increased awareness in recent years of student poverty and the related mental health risks of doctoral study, more funding – not less – is needed for this group which is increasingly under pressure. Since 2012, the number of RTP stipends for Australian students has remained stagnant, despite the number of commencing research students increasing over this time. At present, almost two-thirds of domestic research students do not have an RTP stipend (and research students are not eligible for any Centrelink study payments). Reducing research block grants ensures that this situation will get worse, not better.

“The Government has become increasingly blatant in their hostility towards universities and research over the past year,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“It seems the Government does not want research to be conducted in Australia – unless that research aligns with their agenda.”

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

Attachment – CAPA’s submission to HES Charges and Recovery bills

Overview – In our submission, we present three major concerns with this legislation. Firstly, any additional expense carried by a university will have implications for other budget lines. Secondly, this forms part of a broader pattern of the Government’s withdrawal of support for higher education, in a myopic attempt to perform budget repair. Finally, it is another step in dismantling the HECS-HELP system, a process commenced by the Government earlier this year.

Education Minister’s change to research funding applications fixes an imaginary problem, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is stunned that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has solved a non-existent problem and failed to address the previous Minister’s serious error in judgment. Minister Tehan announced today that Australian Research Council (ARC) applicants will have to restate how their research contributes to the national interest.

Last week, it was revealed in Senate Estimates that the former Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, vetoed research funding for eleven successful ARC applications, including three Early Career grants. All vetoed projects were from the humanities and social sciences.

Following outrage from researchers at the Minister’s inappropriate and clandestine intervention in the ARC funding process, Minister Birmingham proceeded to defend his actions via Twitter, even making fun of one researcher’s project which would have been awarded competitive funding if not for the secret veto.

Rather than apologise for this misstep, the Government has today decided to increase the administrative burden on researchers, with Minister Tehan announcing an addition to ARC applications in which the researcher/s must articulate how their research will “advance the national interest”. As the National Tertiary Education Union has pointed out, the current application form already requires that the researcher states significance, expected outcomes, and benefit and impact. The additional question therefore will not add any useful new information.

The Minister says this change will reassure the taxpayers that their money is being spent appropriately. This superfluous extra question addresses a contrived crisis. There is no widespread taxpayer revolt against research spending, despite the disdain for humanities and blue-sky research in the previous and current education ministries.

“It is bizarre that the Minister is introducing a redundant question in the application process in order to address perceptions of value in research funding, while ignoring the Great Barrier Reef Foundation funding scandal, in which a small private foundation with coal and oil links was unexpectedly given half a billion dollars with no application or tender process,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“We do not expect the Minister for Education to be an expert on research, but we do expect that someone holding this portfolio defers to the panel of experts on the ARC to make decisions on which research should be funded.”

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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

Merit in research funding is dead, warns CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is alarmed by the Federal Government’s attempts to intervene in research funding allocations, circumventing the well-established system of experts judging how to allocate grants funding.

Last night, it was revealed in Senate Estimates that the former Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, vetoed research funding for eleven successful applications – including three Early Career grants – to the Australian Research Council. All projects were from the humanities and social sciences – an area which is already woefully under-funded.

Minister Birmingham’s unprecedented action has ignited widespread fury among researchers, as he intervened in the research community’s own system, in order to choke humanities research which had already been judged to be worthy of funding.

This follows the recent research funding scandal in which the Government gave almost half a billion dollars to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a small private foundation which is linked to coal and oil companies. This decision was made without any transparency – and for an amount of money equal to over half the yearly funding given to the Australian Research Council.

Last night’s revelations, and the Barrier Reef debacle, are clear signals that research funding allocations are decided not on merit, but on fitting with the Government’s agenda. These decisions are taken in secret with no real reasoning provided – going against the spirit of intellectual inquiry.

For a political party which claims to prefer a hands-off approach, it is ironic and disappointing that the Liberal Party has intervened so heavily in the research funding process.

“Humanities and social sciences are an important part of Australia’s research landscape. Yanking funding in secret and without consultation sets a dangerous precedent,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“This is a sad day for Australia’s research community – including research students – as it has become apparent that the Government values pushing its own agenda over innovation, intellectual robustness, and transparency.”

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For comment: CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA calls for income support to include postgrads

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) has today launched the Income Support for Postgrads campaign advocating for study payments to be extended to domestic postgraduate students.

Currently, only undergraduate students are entitled to access full-time study payments such as Austudy and Youth Allowance, subject to means testing. There is no universal entitlement to income support for low-income domestic postgraduate research and coursework students. Research students are unable to access any study payments through the Department of Human Services – even if they have no income – and postgraduate coursework students can only access study payments if their course is deemed to be the minimum or fastest entry-level qualification for their profession.

We are calling on the Government and Opposition to commit to extended income support to all low-income postgraduate coursework students, and to all low-income postgraduate research students who are not in receipt of a living allowance scholarship.

Our research has found that, on average, only 28% of Masters-level courses at public universities are approved for income support. Similarly, only about one-third of commencing postgraduate research students receive direct Commonwealth-funded income support through the competitive Research Training Program (RTP) scholarships.

This is despite the financial distress experienced by postgraduate students, as shown most recently by the 2018 Universities Australia Student Finances Survey. According to their survey, over half of all domestic postgraduate coursework and HDR students are worried about their finances, and one in seven domestic coursework postgraduates regularly go without food and other necessities.

“Extending income support to all postgraduate students would enable more students to complete their studies rather than withdrawing due to financial stress,” says CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams.

“Young Australians are increasingly being shuttled into postgraduate study due to changing economic conditions along with the rise of the ‘Melbourne model’ of education which prescribes a generalist undergraduate degree followed by a specialist postgraduate degree. It is time get serious about postgraduate poverty and allow these students to access study payments.”

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Income support discussion paper: http://www.capa.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Income-support-discussion-paper-October-2018.docx

For comment: CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au