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

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.”

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

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.”


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

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.”

Income support discussion paper:

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

Postgraduates seek better income support

Tim Dodd, The Australian

Postgraduate students are calling for more government income support to put them on a par with undergraduates, who have wider access to schemes such as ­Aus­tudy and the Youth Allowance.

In a new paper the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations says that income support for postgraduates is “highly limited” and opening full access would help in “promoting social mobility for low-income Australians”.

Read more:

Download: Income support discussion paper – October 2018
In this discussion paper, The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) argues that income support should be extended to all domestic postgraduate research and coursework students enrolled at Australian public universities.

CAPA’s recommendations are:

❖ Recommendation 1: That income support be expanded to domestic students of all postgraduate coursework degrees, subject to means testing of the student.
❖ Recommendation 2: That income support be established for domestic students of all research degrees who are not receiving an RTP scholarship or another scholarship of an equivalent or higher amount, subject to means testing of the student.
❖ Recommendation 3: That RTP PhD stipends be extended to a minimum of 4 years and Masters by Research stipends to no less than 2 years.

Attachment –Response to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education’s Student Equity 2030 Discussion Paper


Attachment – Submission to Women in STEM Decadal Plan

Overview –

CAPA’s submission focuses on women in STEM in the higher education context, particularly at the postgraduate level and above. We focus on three key issues that deter women from academic careers in STEM:

  • Structural issues that make STEM unappealing to women with family and/or childcare responsibilities;
  • Sexual harassment and sexual assault; and
  • Lack of opportunity and gendered biases in study/employment.

CAPA recommends that—in order to counteract the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect whereby high numbers of postgraduate and ECR women leave STEM disciplines—the following be prioritised by the Women in STEM Decadal Plan:

  1. Support for women postgraduates unable to engage in full-time study;
  2. Parental leave for postgraduates;
  3. Childcare for university employees and postgraduates;
  4. Targeted research funding for women;
  5. A strategy pertaining to sexual harassment and assault;
  6. Combat the culture of overwork in Australian universities;
  7. Combat the gendered insecurity of academic employment; and
  8. Provide better and fairer access to funds, leadership opportunities, and senior positions for women.