MEDIA RELEASE: CAPA calls for Austudy and mental health support for postgrads in pre-budget submission

CAPA calls for Austudy and mental health support for postgrads in pre-budget submission

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) has implored the Federal Government to better support postgraduate students, in our 2019-20 pre-budget submission.

Investment in education and research have been eroded over the past few years, in the name of budget repair. In spite of the Government’s declared commitment to an ‘innovation’ economy, the higher education sector has suffered continuous cuts and funding freezes.

With a budget surplus now projected, we echo the plea of Universities Australia that the Government must take this opportunity to reinvest in the nation’s research capabilities. In particular, there is an urgent need to develop Australia’s future innovators: our current and prospective postgraduate students.

In our pre-budget submission, we have renewed our call for income support to be extended to all domestic full-time postgraduate students. Currently, a limited and patchwork income support system is in place, where domestic postgraduate coursework students may be eligible for Centrelink study payments only if their course is listed as the minimum, fastest, or only pathway to gain an entry-level qualification for their profession. Seventy-two percent of Masters-level degrees are ineligible for income support, leaving students of these degrees scrambling to balance employment with their full-time studies. As financial pressures are a key reason that students withdraw from their studies prematurely, improving access to income support has the capacity to increase completion rates and therefore reduce wastage of government and student funds.

We furthermore call for better access to mental health support. Postgraduate students experience mental health disorders and distress at greater rates than undergraduate students. Access to psychological support and counselling is essential, and we therefore call on the Government to increase the number of sessions available under Mental Health Care Plans from the current 10 sessions, to 12 sessions per year. This additional time with a mental health professional will help students with difficult or ongoing mental health issues.

“Many postgraduate students are at breaking point. Extending income support and access to mental health care are essential to supporting students to complete and succeed in their studies,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“A postgraduate degree should not have to mean poverty and mental distress.”

In our pre-budget submission, we have also called for the Government to increase research funding following a horror year of cuts, and to investigate options for regulating the cost of tuition in postgraduate degrees.

The full submission can be downloaded from: http://www.capa.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Pre-budget-submission.docx

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

Attachment: Pre-budget submission

Investment in education and research have been eroded over the past several years, owing to budget repair. In spite of the Government’s declared commitment to an ‘innovation’ economy, the higher education sector has suffered continuous cuts and funding freezes. Given the budget surplus now reported, we echo the plea of Universities Australia (2018) that the Government must take this opportunity to reinvest in the nation’s research capabilities. In particular, there is an urgent need to develop Australia’s future innovators: our current and prospective postgraduate students.
In this submission, we identify several key areas of crisis in higher education, and in postgraduate education especially, and make four recommendations. These recommendations are that:

  1. Income support payments such as Austudy be extended to all full-time domestic postgraduate students;
  2. The number of Medicare subsidised psychologist sessions available under mental health care plans be extended from a maximum of 10 to a maximum of 12, for all mental health conditions that are currently subject to the 10 session cap;
  3. Research investment be increased to 3% of GDP; and
  4. The Government investigate options for price regulation of postgraduate coursework degrees.

International students need services and support to build their English language proficiency, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is calling for funding to be dedicated to supporting academic and social opportunities for international students, amid rising concerns that many international students in Australia are unable to adequately communicate in English.

For international students who are learning English, it is crucial to have opportunities to converse with other English speakers, including local students. However, for many of the 40% of international students undertaking postgraduate study, such opportunities on campus are few and far between. Postgraduate associations, which provide informal opportunities to practice English with local speakers, are alarmingly under-funded. A recent CAPA survey indicated that the worst-funded association in Australia receives just $3.50 per student per year to provide support services and social opportunities, including informal events for international students to maintain and develop their English language competency.

Most students pay approximately $300 per year in the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), but see remarkably little of this dedicated to social programs as universities creatively interpret the SSAF legislation to cover funding shortfalls elsewhere. We call on universities to commit to providing half of the Student Services and Amenities Fee collected to their student associations, including postgraduate associations, so that associations are able to fulfil their purpose of creating a community through social, academic, and networking initiatives.

We concur with statements made by the Council of International Students Australia (CISA) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) that universities must adhere to minimum entry requirements for international students. We note that falling federal government investment in education has caused universities to become increasingly reliant on international student tuition fees, which puts pressure on universities to lower entry standards in order to enrol more students.

At the same time, due to these federal funding cuts, universities are having to make do with less resources. Some of the changes we have seen in recent years include reduced face-to-face classroom time, and cutting the amount of time that staff are paid for their teaching duties. This impacts international students’ opportunities to improve their English language skills.

“International students’ struggles to become proficient in English is a symptom of a higher education system in crisis, with funding shortfalls reducing the quality of their courses and of their extra-curricular opportunities,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“Student associations play an important role in orienting international students and providing opportunities for them to meet other students – universities need to start funding these associations at a level where they are able to reliably provide these services.”

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

Download – CAPA freedom of speech review submission

In this submission, we first provide our perspective on the context of the review, arguing that claims towards a crisis of freedom of speech are contrived and politically motivated. However, being that the review is underway, we provide our perspective on tensions relating to freedom of speech on campus. We argue that staff working conditions are threatened by the presence of hate speech, and that any sector-wide code of conduct relating to free speech must ensure that staff workplace rights are preserved. We comment on existing legislation relating to this, noting that the legislation itself is suitable, but that there are some genuine threats to intellectual freedom at universities owing to cuts to research and services due to severe federal funding reductions. We furthermore caution that secret ministerial interference in research funding allocations, as was discovered in late 2018, also endangers intellectual freedom.

Based on the above, we provide the following recommendations:

  • That universities retain the right to decide whether to host speakers who are not students or staff at their university, who lack academic legitimacy, and who promote viewpoints which threaten the safety of their staff and students.
  • That a sector-wide code of conduct not be adopted, and that universities set their own freedom of speech policies which are compliant with legislation.
  • That if a sector-wide code of conduct is implemented, it must be compliant with legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and must not contravene on universities’ obligations to provide a safe working environment.
  • That the government must restore higher education and research funding which has been cut over the last several years.
  • That universities must end insecure employment practices, providing the security for their researchers to investigate controversial or uncertain topics.
  • That legislation should be enacted to prevent government interference, and mandate transparency, in federal research funding allocations.