Comments on proposed amendments to the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015

Download – CAPA feedback on freedom of speech amendment

We thank the Higher Education Standards Panel for the opportunity for CAPA to provide our views on proposed amendments to the Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 (the Standards). The proposed amendments are one outcome of the Hon Robert French’s Review of Freedom of Speech in Higher Education.
In our comments on the proposed amendment, we make the following recommendations:
Recommendation one: That the Higher Education Standards Framework not be amended as proposed.
Recommendation two: That, if the Standards are amended, the ordering be changed such that equitable treatment and wellbeing of students and staff be placed prior to freedom of speech.
Recommendation three: That, if the Standards are amended, the phrase “freedom of speech” be replaced with “freedom of political speech”.

Download – Submission to Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Promoting good mental health outcomes for postgraduate students requires both targeted mental health services (particularly counselling), and policy change to addressing the stressors which cause mental health disorders and sub-clinical distress in students. In particular, the experience of poverty and financial uncertainty contribute to postgraduate students’ difficulties.

We make the following recommendations on crucial policy changes to relieve postgraduate students’ levels of distress:

Recommendation one: That the Victorian Government lobby the Commonwealth Government to expand the coverage of Austudy to all full-time, domestic postgraduate students, subject to means-testing.

Recommendation two: That the Victorian Government provide additional scholarships, of greater or equivalent value to those provided through the Research Training Program, for students undertaking research degrees, as part of the project grants provided by the Victorian Government to universities.

We furthermore make the following recommendations on increasing the capacity of counselling services:

Recommendation three: That the Victorian Government, through legislative or regulatory measures, enforces minimum standards on wait times (no more than two weeks) and number of sessions available (no less than twelve) on the counselling services provided on public university campuses.

Recommendation four: That the Victorian Government supports changes to the Medicare Mental Health Care Plan system, to create a tiered system providing additional support to those with more complex cases.

Download  – Submission to Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019

We welcome this opportunity to provide our comments on the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019. We previously provided our view on the idea of contract cheating legislation in a submission earlier this year (CAPA 2019).
We commend efforts by the Department of Education, Higher Education Standards Panel (HESP), and Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to promote a culture of academic integrity. In this submission, we communicate partial support for the proposed amendment to the TEQSA Act. We agree that it would be beneficial to have legislation targeting commercial cheating providers. Crucially, we argue that the scope of the draft legislation should be narrowed, such that it is not an offence for an individual to assist a student to cheat.

Download – ANZSRC submission

We welcome this opportunity to contribute to the review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC). In our submission, we focus on the inadequacy of codes relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. We recommend, firstly, that at least one four-digit FoR code be created for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research; secondly, that six-digit codes be expanded in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars; thirdly, that a “not elsewhere classified” code be created to capture any further gaps; and finally, that all Higher Degree by Research students have an opportunity to review their code.

Download – Future humanities workforce submission

We welcome this opportunity to contribute our views to the Australian Academy of Humanities’ Future Humanities Workforce project. Our submission engages with questions six to fourteen in the consultation paper, examining the unique context of junior researchers (PhD scholars and ECRs) in the humanities. We first discuss the issue of insecure employment in universities, arguing that this is a major impediment to humanities researchers’ careers. We then illuminate some inequities in the federal grant allocation process which systematically impact upon the careers of junior researchers. Next, we discuss the problem of inflation of required experience to attain academic employment; an issue which is intertwined with the previous two sections. Finally, we highlight the unpaid and underpaid contributions of doctoral students and how this impacts upon the research ecosystem.

We welcome this opportunity to contribute our views to the Australian Academy of Humanities’ Future Humanities Workforce project. Our submission engages with questions six to fourteen in the consultation paper, examining the unique context of junior researchers (PhD scholars and ECRs) in the humanities. We first discuss the issue of insecure employment in universities, arguing that this is a major impediment to humanities researchers’ careers. We then illuminate some inequities in the federal grant allocation process which systematically impact upon the careers of junior researchers. Next, we discuss the problem of inflation of required experience to attain academic employment; an issue which is intertwined with the previous two sections. Finally, we highlight the unpaid and underpaid contributions of doctoral students and how this impacts upon the research ecosystem.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) today launches the campaign “Support Postgrads – Australia’s Future” which assesses political parties on their commitment to the policy reforms most needed to improve conditions for postgraduate students.

We found that the Australian Greens were the strongest supporter of our policy priorities, including through committing to income support for postgraduate students and supporting a cap on full-fee tuition for postgraduate coursework students. Meanwhile, Labor has stated in-principle support for many issues impacting postgraduate students, and has committed to conducting a full review of the higher education system should they form government. The Labor party has confirmed that this review will consider extending income support for postgraduate students in financial need.

CAPA is disappointed that the Liberal-National Coalition could not be bothered to respond to our election questionnaire. However this may be reflective of publicly stated policy positions that are opposed to the key priorities of postgraduate students.

We implore voters to take the parties’ higher education policies into consideration when going to the polls on May 18.

We asked each major party their stance on policy issues of most relevance to postgraduate students. Our main requests are:
•    Extend income support (e.g. Austudy) to all full-time domestic postgraduate students, subject to means testing
•    Guarantee the continuation of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF)
•    Reverse the cuts made in the last term of government to higher education and research funding, and return the HELP loan repayment threshold to pre-2018 levels
•    Cap the cost of tuition for postgraduate full-fee places

In addition, we call on the incoming government to:
•    Increase the number of covered sessions with a mental health professional
•    Increase research grants targeted at early career researchers
•    Make part-time government-issued scholarships tax-free, like full-time scholarships
•    Outlaw conversion therapy Australia-wide

The full report is available at http://www.capa.edu.au/2019-federal-election-campaign-support-postgrads-australias-future/

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

Download: 2019/20 Federal Budget Explainer

This explainer is designed to help affiliate organisations of CAPA understand the key messages of the 2019/20 Federal Budget. It covers details that CAPA thinks are relevant to students, and does not cover everything contained in the budget. Most of the measures included in the budget, particularly new programs, will require legislation that will not be complete and passed before the Government calls the next Federal Election. Therefore, much of this budget is an election statement and much is unlikely to be fully realised unless the Coalition are re-elected or the ALP adopts the measures should they be elected as government.

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Peak student bodies unite to slam budget for failing on education policy

Tertiary students have again been given the raw end of the deal, with the 2019 Federal Budget entirely absent of policy for universities or anything substantial for vocational education.

The peak student bodies – the National Union of Students (NUS), Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students (UATSIS), and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) – stand together to condemn the Coalition Government for once again failing students.

With the funding freeze from the 2017 MYEFO still in place, universities are set to net a 5% decrease in funding by 2020. There is no plan to undo the damage of the Liberals’ cuts to higher education and research during their term. Commitments to research funding are being cherry-picked by the government, and follow cuts of $328 million over the last 18 months.

While the Government has promised $525 million towards vocational education, this follows cuts of $3 billion over the last six years. Furthermore, the Government cannot be trusted to deliver their vocational education apprenticeship scheme considering the momentous failure of their PaTH project from 2016, which saw serious workplace safety breaches and less than one sixth of the anticipated internship opportunities taken up.

Project funding for TAFEs and universities is paltry in comparison to the years of cuts, and reflects a last-ditch attempt at vote buying rather than any actual policy.

“Throwing crumbs at new projects in TAFEs and universities is just an attempt to distract from this government’s absent education agenda,” said NUS President Desiree Cai. “The last six years have seen successive cuts to VET and higher education. This is nothing more than electoral opportunism.”

“The Federal Budget reflects the Government’s total lack of vision when it comes to our nation’s future,” said CAPA President Natasha Abrahams. “The long-term dividends of university research are well established, but the Government wishes to forgo research investment in favour of tax cuts that disproportionately benefit those who need it least.”

“Almost $11 million has been removed from the Indigenous Student Success Program (ISSP) in this budget. The result of these cuts means the ISSP has not had a funding increase for approximately 4 years,” said NATSIPA Vice-President, Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer. “This government is doing nothing to ‘close the gap’ on our educational disadvantage.”

“Education is the great enabler; we know that when our mob finish university, it is so much easier for us to move ahead in life,” said UATSIS President Braedyn Edwards. “Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government has chosen to place greater emphasis on the budget bottom line and the great irony is this: while the Government’s budget is allegedly back in the black, they’re not backing us blacks.”

NUS, CAPA, NATSIPA, and UATSIS are willing to assist the Government to develop a tertiary education policy should the Government decide that they need one.

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For further comment:

NUS National President
Desiree Cai
E: president@nus.asn.au
P: 0411 606 808

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

NATSIPA Vice-President
Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer
E: vice-president@natsipa.edu.au
P: 0417 239 909

UATSIS National President
Braedyn Edwards
E: president@uatsis.org
P: 0428 238 088

Women in STEM initiative cannot coexist with the war on science

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) says that the women in STEM initiatives announced by the Federal Government are a cold comfort as science has been starved of funding in recent years.

While $3.4 million has been announced for science gender equity programs, $328 million has been ripped from research funding over the past year and a half.

In other words, only 1% of the cut to research funding has been returned via the women in STEM initiatives.

CAPA supports the increased investment to lift women’s participation in the STEM workforce, however this is irrelevant if research is not properly funded. There is no point creating the digital awareness initiative for women in science, when graduates of science degrees face poor career prospects in Australia due to the government’s sustained war on science.

We reiterate our call for national investment to be equal to 3% of GDP.

We echo statements from Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) and Science & Technology Australia (STA) that improvements to gender equity in science can only be achieved with investment in STEM research.

“We need stable research funding and support for this program to be effective. Increased funding for women in STEM awareness is counterproductive if there is no workforce for women to end up in,” says CAPA Women’s Officer, Romana-Rea Begicevic.

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

Government forgets skills in their skills and infrastructure agenda

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is horrified at the Government’s priorities as outlined in their 2019/20 Budget handed down tonight.

The Coalition Government is ripping money out of Australia’s future prosperity in a vain attempt to buy votes with their $158 billion of tax cuts that mostly benefit the top end of town.

The Liberals’ sustained cuts to research will drag down the Australian economy in future, as we forgo the high return-on-investment for research expenditure. The Group of Eight universities found that each dollar of research funding they receive returns $10 to the economy.

As far as education goes, this budget has nothing for anyone over the age of 14 and not in vocational education. Not one request made by postgraduate students to this government has been adopted.

Students are suffering, with many unable to afford rent and food. There is also a high prevalence of mental health issues among the student population. However, this budget provides no relief. There have been no improvements to welfare. There is nothing for students living in poverty. The number of Medicare-covered sessions with a mental health professional remains woefully inadequate.

The Coalition’s message is clear: they will sacrifice Australia’s future to buy votes. Their vision extends no further than next month’s federal election.

The Treasurer claims that Australia is “back on track” while students can’t help but fall off the tracks. We need the incoming government to have a vision for Australia’s future as a knowledge economy.

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

CAPA calls for student concession fares in Victorian pre-budget submission

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is calling for concession public transport fares to be extended to full-time postgraduate students, in a pre-budget submission to the Victorian Government.

Unlike undergraduate students, full-time postgraduate students are unable to access public transport student concession rates. Victoria is the only state which excludes domestic postgraduate students from the student concession scheme.

Full-time postgraduate enrolments in Victoria have more than doubled in the past decade.  These students are less able to engage in paid work than their part-time counterparts, and frequently live in poverty. The cost of paying full fares on public transport is an extra strain on postgraduate students’ finances. A typical 20 – 24 year old domestic postgraduate student, if using public transport five days a week, would spend approximately one tenth of their income on transport fares.

We have previously projected that it would cost the Victorian Government approximately $6 million to extend concession fares to full-time domestic and international postgraduate students. This pales in comparison to the $9.1 billion per year generated by international education in the state of Victoria.

“We applaud the Andrews Government for important changes made to public transport infrastructure in Victoria. We believe it is time to make public transport more affordable for our student population,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“There is no good reason not to consider full-time postgraduate students as being students for the purposes of the transport concession scheme.”

The full submission can be viewed here.

More information about the Fares Fair PTV campaign can be viewed here.

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

Download: CAPA-Victorian-pre-budget-submission.docx

In this submission, we discuss the growing size and significance of the postgraduate cohort in Victoria, and the financial challenges faced by postgraduate students. On this basis, we recommend that the Victorian Government extend public transport concession fares to all full-time postgraduate students.