Submission to Inquiry into Funding Australia’s Research

Attachment – Submission to Inquiry into Funding Australia’s Research

Overview –

CAPA makes three recommendations to the Funding Australia’s Research inquiry:
1. For Australian research funding to include an automatic entitlement to a four-year full-time (tax free) living stipend for all enrolled doctoral students;

2. That some research funding should be reserved for applications led by junior researchers; and

3. That research funding allocations should incentivise applications which include research students and ECRs.

Related content: Hansard transcript of the inquiry’s public hearing, at which the CAPA President was a witness, is available here.

Earlier this year, the Government proposed changes to the HECS-HELP system, including a lowered income threshold for making repayments, and a cap on HECS-HELP borrowing. Both of these changes go against the spirit of the HECS system, which is predicated on enabling access to education for all Australians regardless of ability to pay upfront.

These changes were expected to be passed by the Senate this week, meaning they would have come into effect from Sunday. However, this did not happen. The legislation was bumped off the Senate agenda in favour of other legislation of higher priority.

For an explanation of the legislation, please see our briefing paper from earlier in the year (note that since then, a small change has been made to the legislation – the borrowing cap will now replenish upon repayment, rather than being a lifetime limit). In collaboration with the National Union of Students, we commissioned research which found that the borrowing cap will impact over 30,000 Australians in the coming years – you can read or watch a summary of the research.

You may have seen some media reporting earlier in the week that the legislation has already been passed. This reporting is incorrect. As the Senate is now closed for the winter break, this means that the soonest the legislation will be voted upon will be August 13. This gives us more time to lobby senators to oppose the legislation; however, it appears to be almost certain the legislation will pass.

The passage of the legislation depends on the votes of a small number of independent senators. This legislation has been dragging on for months now, but it is crucial to continue applying pressure to the independent senators to let them know that students care about this issue. Your ongoing efforts on opposing the legislation are much needed.

Please see the Bury the Bill campaign page for a list of senators to contact, as well as materials to assist you in doing so, such as a form letter and a petition.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) calls on the Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan to expand study assistance eligibility to all Masters degrees. Today, the Minister for Social Services released this year’s edition of the list of Masters level courses for which domestic students can obtain Austudy or Youth Allowance.

Unfortunately, the list is largely unchanged from the previous iteration, and continues to exclude many students from receiving study payments.

Currently, postgraduate students can only be eligible for study payments if their course is the minimum legal or accreditation requirement for their profession, or if it is deemed to be the fastest pathway to their profession. Many public universities have low numbers of eligible courses, for example, at the Australian National University, just 9% of postgraduate coursework degrees are on the list of courses for which students can seek study payments.

The yearly list is a source of confusion and despair for many postgraduate coursework students, who find themselves ineligible for study payments.

CAPA urges the Minister for Social Services to implement the recommendation of the 2008 Bradley Review of Higher Education to extend study payments to all domestic students enrolled in postgraduate coursework degrees.

“Postgraduate study is becoming increasingly necessary in order for young Australians to gain employment, but this has not yet been recognised by the Government,” says CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams.

“The current study payment system is a patchwork that is difficult for students to navigate, and leaves many with no support whatsoever. Eligibility for study payments should be based on financial need, rather than an arbitrary list of courses which make the cut.”

For comment: CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the Higher Education Standards Panel’s scrutiny of attrition rates in the Improving Retention, Completion and Success in Higher Education report released earlier today.

The Higher Education Standards Panel’s report, and the Minister for Education’s acceptance of its recommendations, are important first steps in raising the profile of why some students struggle to complete their studies.

CAPA appreciates the panel’s recommendation that each educational institution should have a mental health strategy. Students frequently tell us about the long waiting lists for counselling, and the inadequacy of emergency mental health care services available on campus. Any mental health strategy must be supported by a genuine commitment and adequate resourcing, including appropriate staffing levels of university counselling services.

Furthermore, CAPA advocates that targeting the underlying causes of distress and mental health issues in students should be made a priority. For example, for doctoral students, the key issues are financial stress, difficult supervision relationships, career uncertainty, and problematic departmental cultures.

“Postgraduate students consistently tell us that the main obstacles to completing their studies are a lack of financial stability, and mental health issues. In addition to this, many students have indicated that these two factors feed into one another,” said CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“It is crucial for the universities and the Federal Government to work together to provide support for postgraduate students. A multi-faceted approach is necessary if they wish for these students to thrive in their time at university. This includes the long-overdue expansion of study payments to postgraduate students.”

CAPA notes that the panel’s report finds off-campus students are over twice as likely as on-campus students to withdraw from their studies. Many external students would prefer to study on-campus, but cannot due to their work commitments. Offering income support to domestic postgraduate students in need would give these students more freedom to study on-campus and fully participate in university life, thus improving their student experience and ultimately their study outcomes.

For further comment:
CAPA National President
Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993