MEDIA RELEASE: Cutting education funding is an unnatural disaster, says CAPA

Cutting education funding is an unnatural disaster, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is dismayed that the Education Infrastructure Fund has been abolished, with money moved to the Emergency Response Fund for natural disaster relief.

The Education Infrastructure Fund consists of almost $4 billion in capital, and was supposed to provide an ongoing funding source for building higher education facilities. However, under successive Coalition Governments, no money was paid out for new projects.

“It is our firm belief that if the Government had not proceeded with irresponsible tax cuts for the top end of town, they would be able to fund both higher education and disaster relief,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“By redirecting money earmarked for the future of education, the Government – with support from the Opposition – has created a preventable disaster.”

The diversion of the Education Infrastructure Fund has occurred following sustained cuts to higher education and research. Just this week, the government also imposed over $11 million in new fees on higher education providers. These cuts amount to short-term savings in order to balance a federal budget strained by massive tax cuts. There is no regard for how Australia’s future workforce and economy will be impacted.

Education is Australia’s third largest export, with international students contributing over $35 billion to the Australian economy every year. The removal of this fund makes Australian universities less competitive in the international education market, undermining Australia’s position as an education leader. This attack on the quality of Australian education is theft from the future economy to pay for present programs that could be funded in other ways by any government that was competent at economic management.

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

Student loan fee is a tax on opportunity, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is disappointed that the Government, with Opposition support, has passed legislation ripping funding from universities offering student loans.

The legislation, which passed yesterday, imposes an annual tax on higher education providers whose students access student loans. The $11.7 million which will be charged to providers is in addition to severe cuts to the student loans system which were passed last year. These changes included the introduction of a borrowing cap which does not accommodate escalating course costs, meaning tens of thousands of postgraduate students must pay tuition fees upfront; and the retroactive lowering of the income repayment threshold for student loans.

While the tax is to be levied against higher education providers rather than students directly, it is inevitable that students will feel the impact of this cut, through a reduction in services or quality of education.

“This represents another crack in the foundations of a higher education system that is dangerously close to toppling over,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“A fee to access student loans sends the message that higher education is only for those who can afford it, continuing the Government’s pattern of attacks on university students so they can fund unnecessary tax cuts to the rich. This is a tax on opportunity which has been legislated with bipartisan support.”

We commend the Australian Greens for their opposition to this legislation and their recognition that this is one of many measures to gradually dismantle the student loans system.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA and NATSIPA recommend increased support for research students to boost regional universities’ research outcomes

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) have recommended increased support for research students in a joint submission to the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) project on Enhancing Research Outcomes from Australia’s Regional, Rural and Remote Universities.

Research outcomes are closely tied to the success of universities in attracting, nurturing, and retaining research students. Postgraduate students have been shown to conduct 57% of all research hours conducted in Australia, not only doing their own projects, but also assisting other academics in the development, testing and analysis of their projects.

“Regional universities are significant financial and social institutions in the areas in which they operate, offering their communities educational, research, economic, cultural and social opportunities which otherwise may not be available within close proximity,” says CAPA/NATSIPA Liaison Officer, Stacey Coates. “However, regional universities can particularly struggle to attract and retain research students to study in these non-metropolitan locations. Additionally, students attending regional universities tend to face more barriers within higher education than their metropolitan counterparts.”

The joint submission highlighted the barriers that are preventing regional universities from improving their research outputs. The recommendations include that all research students should be entitled to a four-year minimum wage stipend, that regional universities create and support a pipeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, and that regional universities provide funding to postgraduate student associations to facilitate community building.

“Only four out of Australia’s eleven regional universities have an independent postgraduate association, one of which receives the least amount of funding per student of any postgraduate association in Australia,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams. “We know that feeling connected to the university community prevents research students from dropping out, so it is imperative that postgraduate associations are established at regional universities to facilitate these networks.”

The ACOLA project will culminate in a report that is due to be delivered to the Department of Education in February 2020.

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

Download – CAPA NATSIPA RRR research submission

In this submission we focus on the barriers that are preventing RRR universities from improving their research outputs, and make recommendations on how these barriers might be removed or reduced by RRR universities, as well as state and federal governments. Having considered these barriers, we make the following recommendations:

Recommendation one: That RTP or equivalent value stipends be made available to all HDR students.

Recommendation two: That RTP PhD stipends be extended to a minimum of 4 years and Masters by Research stipends to no less than 2 years.

Recommendation three: That the minimum value of RTP stipends be increased to at least minimum wage.

Recommendation four: That, where not otherwise covered by an RTP or equivalent stipend for any reason (e.g. the expiration of their RTP stipend), all full-time, domestic HDR students be eligible to access Austudy (subject to means testing of the student).

Recommendation five: That student concession fares be extended to all full-time students, including international and postgraduate students, in New South Wales and Victoria.

Recommendation six: That a national public transport concession scheme be implemented such that all tertiary students can access concession fares in all states.

Recommendation seven: That the Commonwealth Government implements legislation requiring at least 50% of Student Services and Amenities Fees be received by independent student associations.

Recommendation eight: That RRR universities provide financial support to their student organisations equivalent to at least 50% of Student Services and Amenities Fees collected from the students those organisations represent.

Recommendation nine: That RRR universities reduce their reliance on casual and short-term contracts and transition towards providing additional full-time secure employment contracts.

Recommendation ten: That RRR universities continue to support ‘grow your own’ initiatives to develop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics.

Recommendation eleven: That RRR universities fund Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers to conduct research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Recommendation twelve: That the Government extends Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) funding to HDR students.

Recommendation thirteen: That universities provide four-year stipends of at least minimum wage for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctoral students.

Murdoch University should spend their money on student services not lawyers, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and Murdoch University Postgraduate Student Association (MUPSA) call on Murdoch University to provide better academic, social, and English language support for their international students, instead of suing the staff member who publicly exposed the university’s failure to do so.

Following the Four Corners episode on concerns about academic standards for international students in which Murdoch University Associate Professor Gerd Schroeder-Turk expressed his views, the university has pursued legal action against the professor to seek compensation for their drop in international student enrolments.

We are horrified by the university’s decision to sue one of their own employees for airing their concerns. We agree with the National Tertiary Education Union’s call for the university to drop legal proceedings.

An appropriate university response would have been to immediately investigate academic standards and provide comprehensive, well-resourced support for their students.

“MUPSA condemns the actions of Murdoch University, suing Associate Professor Gerd Schroeder-Turk,” says MUPSA President, Jonovan Van Yken. “Universities should be dedicated to the pursuit of truth and in taking this course of action they are sending the wrong signal, not only to all staff and students at the university, but also to whistleblowers all over the world. This behaviour of attempting to intimidate and silencing staff members from speaking out is not worthy of an academic institution.”

A university’s first priority should always be its students and research, not the bottom line. The Four Corners report raises legitimate concerns, the solution to which lies in Murdoch University funding student adjustment programs, rather than an ill-founded legal case.

A petition has been launched on Change.org (“Justice for Gerd”), currently with close to 2000 signatures, showing strong community support of Gerd’s actions.

“Murdoch University, like many other educational institutions, has failed in its duty of care to international students,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams. “Rather than blame Associate Professor Schroeder-Turk for a dip in enrolments, the university should look at what they are actually delivering to students.”

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

CAPA recommends that TEQSA risk assessments look at student support

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is calling for the TEQSA Risk Assessment Framework to include an indicator measuring the availability and resourcing of support available to students of higher education providers.

Current indicators relating to students in the Risk Assessment Framework are: changes in student load, attrition and completion rate, course progression rate, graduate satisfaction, and graduate destinations.

In our submission to the TEQSA Risk Assessment Framework Consultation, we recommend that the risk assessment framework be expanded to include a measure for the availability of independent support and representation for students. This would empower TEQSA to assess the infrastructure for students to represent their feedback and complaints, both as individuals and as a collective where issues are systemic.

Feedback received by CAPA suggests that at some institutions, policies on student complaints are nonexistent or not applied properly, and that there is little support available to navigate complaints processes. Moreover, students are unable to effectively organise and must pursue complaints on an individual basis at institutions where there is no supported student representation. This is particularly an issue at private higher education providers.

We also recommended that staff-to-student ratios be assessed in a more segmented manner, to ensure that staffing is fit-for-purpose and that research students are receiving appropriate academic support.

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

Download – TEQSA risk assessment submission

In this submission, we present several suggestions for refining the TEQSA risk assessment framework. We make the following recommendations:

Recommendation one: That the risk assessment framework should include qualitative data collection, including through the engagement of students and student unions.

Recommendation two: That the quantitative indicator of student satisfaction be supplemented by the collection of qualitative data of students’ experiences.

Recommendation three: That the Framework be amended to include a specific provision relating to the availability and resourcing of independent student support and representation.

Recommendation four: That the risk assessment framework continues to include an indicator for percentage of academic staff on casual contracts.

Recommendation five: That the risk assessment framework includes an indicator for ratio of research students to supervision staff.

CAPA welcomes university leaders’ commitment to research student wellbeing

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes a commitment from the Australian Council of Graduate Research (ACGR) to develop a set of national principles on how universities should support the mental health of research students.

CAPA Women’s Officer and PhD student at the Curtin University School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, Romana-Rea Begicevic, spoke at the research student wellbeing forum convened by ACGR earlier this week.

“Recent reports from overseas find that half of PhD students experience psychological distress, and one third are at risk of a common psychiatric disorder,” she says. “Local studies and our experiences suggest a similar situation in Australia, resulting in poor completion rates for doctoral study.”

Romana-Rea’s presentation noted the current lack of nationally recognised and endorsed guidelines to support universities to deliver best practice responses, and identified the need for graduate schools to make mental health support more accessible to students.

We are delighted that ACGR will develop guidelines to extend best practice and improve mental health support resources available across the sector. Their leadership will provide an imperative for graduate schools across Australia to better support the wellbeing of their students.

We look forward to collaborating with ACGR to continue to improve the working conditions of research students.

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

CAPA calls for student income support and secure work for uni staff in Newstart Inquiry

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) urges the Government to extend and improve income support for all domestic students and for a reduction in insecure employment for university employees, in a submission to the Senate Inquiry on Newstart and related payments.

In our submission, we renew our call for income support programs such as Austudy to be extended to all domestic full-time postgraduate students, subject to means testing. It has been more than a decade since the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education found that income support should be available to students enrolled in all postgraduate coursework programs, yet there is still no universal entitlement to income support for low-income domestic postgraduate research and coursework students. Eligibility for income support is based on course of enrolment, but only a minority of Masters courses are eligible for income support according to an arbitrary list released by the Government, with research students unable to access any Centrelink study payments at all.

Under this system, many students living in extreme poverty are not able to access Centrelink payments. This results in students experiencing homelessness and skipping meals in order to survive. We urge the Government to urgently address this travesty.

We furthermore are concerned about the impact of insecure work in universities on the welfare system. Two-thirds of university staff are employed either as casuals or on short-term contracts. Many of these casually employed university staff are also postgraduate students. Insecure work in universities results in highly-qualified individuals relying upon income support and community charity resources to make ends meet when in between contracts. This state of affairs could be entirely prevented by the implementation of fair employment conditions for university employees, resulting in better educational and research outcomes, and eliminating an unnecessary welfare burden on Australian taxpayers.

We therefore implore the Government to incentivise public higher education providers to increase secure employment in their staffing profiles.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

Download – Submission to Senate Inquiry into the Adequacy of Newstart and Related Payments

In this submission, we argue that current income support payments for domestic students are inadequate and exclude many low-income students who are in need of income support. Further, we argue that increasing current income support payments and scholarships, and extending income support to all domestic postgraduate students would be result in increased course completion rates. Specifically, we recommend the following:

Recommendation one: That income support be expanded to domestic students of all postgraduate coursework degrees, subject to means testing of the student.

Recommendation two: That the rate of Austudy be urgently increased in order to help students afford housing.

Recommendation three: That Austudy eligibility 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 four: That RTP PhD stipends be extended to a minimum of 4 years and Masters by Research stipends to no less than 2 years.

Recommendation five: That the value of RTP stipends be increased to at least minimum wage.

Recommendation six: That the Commonwealth Government implement measures that incentivise publicly funded higher education providers to reduce the proportion of their staff employed on short-term or casual contacts.

CAPA welcomes follow-up survey on SA/SH in universities

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes Universities Australia’s announcement of a follow-up survey on sexual assault and harassment in universities, as promised following the release of the Change the Course report in 2017.

We are encouraged that the survey will include extensive consultation with students, including with groups, such as End Rape on Campus, which have been instrumental in advocating for change.

We look forward to representing the unique concerns of postgraduate students to the survey team as part of the consultation process.

Research students are vulnerable to inappropriate behaviour from their supervisors due to the power dynamic involved. The follow-up survey represents an opportunity to systematically gather data on this issue for the first time. CAPA strongly encourages Universities Australia to include this issue in the survey, and we look forward to collaborating with our member organisations and others in the sector to advocate for change.

“The Change the Course report two years ago highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence in university communities, sparking many conversations in the sector about the culture we create and inhabit,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams. “The follow-up survey is an opportunity to examine if any universities have been successful in reducing sexual violence in their community, and will provide the sector with data illuminating where action is needed.”

“Women need to be given a safe environment to work in so they can be successful. For female postgraduate and research students, collecting data will be a crucial step in addressing inappropriate relationships between students and their supervisors and the link to future career success,” says CAPA Women’s Officer, Romana Begicevic. “We welcome this opportunity to better represent and support the success of women in academia. It is wonderful that the follow-up survey has been announced during Bluestocking Week, which celebrates women’s participation in higher education.”

Furthermore, we encourage the survey team to consult with and incorporate feedback from other peak bodies including the National Union of Students, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association, the Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students, and the Council of International Students Australia.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

Performance-based funding model tinkers at the edge of failing system, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) cautions that the new performance-based funding model does not address the funding issues plaguing universities.

The Government proposes to distribute $80 million to universities based on graduate employment rates, student satisfaction with teaching, attrition rates, and equity group enrolments. The performance-based funding is only to be applied at an undergraduate level.

This $80 million is a pittance compared to the billions of dollars ripped from undergraduate education, student loans, and research funding in the last two years.

Universities increasingly seek unethical sources of funding to make up for the severe funding cuts from Government. This includes charging extortionate fees to international and domestic postgraduate students, collaborations with weapons manufacturers, and accepting funds from controversial groups such as the Ramsay Centre.

“Implementing performance-based funding without providing an adequate amount of funding to universities is like bailing out a sinking ship using a cup,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams. “The Government must take decisive action to ensure universities are fully-funded institutions for the public good. While performance-based funding appears to be well-intentioned, it does not adequately address the under-funding of universities and unethical actions taken by university management.”

Moreover, not all metrics used in the performance-based funding model are well thought out. We are concerned about the “student experience” metric, which is not comparable across universities. As we argued in our submission, quoted by the performance-based funding panel’s report, most undergraduate students lack a point of comparison as they have only attended one university. Student perceptions of university are more reflective of their expectations rather than of the quality of education provided.

We furthermore warn that student satisfaction with teaching will create more demands for unpaid labour from the insecurely employed academic staff, many of whom are research students, who undertake the bulk of teaching work.

Our submission to the performance-based funding review can be downloaded here.

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