MEDIA RELEASE: Students call on NSW government to extend student public transport pricing to international students

Students call on NSW government to extend student public transport pricing to international students

A coalition of fourteen student organisations is asking the New South Wales government to grant concession public transport fares to international students, in line with all other Australian states.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA), in partnership with the Council of International Students Australia (CISA), National Union of Students (NUS), and all campus-based student associations of NSW, has today released a discussion paper outlining the case for international student concessions.

We estimate that extending public transport concessions to higher education students in NSW would cost the state a maximum of $169 million per year. This is based on the assumption that all students will be using the weekly maximum Opal card (which is currently $25 concession or $50 full fare) for 52 weeks per year. In reality, most students will use public transportation less often, especially those who travel to their home countries during study breaks.

This cost is minimal when compared to the $13 billion injected into the NSW economy by international students in 2018. Reducing this everyday cost for international students will increase their satisfaction with their treatment in Australia, at a relatively small cost to the state.

There are currently no concessions available for international students in NSW, with the discounted MyMulti pass program for international students being quietly ended in 2016.

“With the current situation of international students relying on limited and underpaid casual work for their day-to-day expenses including high rent in NSW, paying full fares is an additional hardship,” says CAPA International Officer, Devendra Singh.

“There are a lot of international students struggling financially and cutting their food expenses in order to pay for their daily commute. These experiences damage the global reputation of New South Wales as an education destination. The state must maintain its reputation by extending concessions on public transport to all students.”

The discussion paper can be downloaded from: http://www.capa.edu.au/discussion-paper-public-transport-concessions-international-students-new-south-wales/

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

Download – International transport concessions NSW discussion paper

New South Wales is the only state which excludes international university students from public transport concessions. Lack of access to public transport concessions makes New South Wales a less desirable study destination for overseas students.

International students bring in $13 billion per year to the NSW economy, with international education being the state’s largest services export industry. We estimate that extending public transport concessions to international higher education students would cost a maximum of $168.6 million per year.

On this basis, we recommend:

Recommendation one: That the New South Wales state government grants all full-time international students access to concession public transport fares.

Recommendation two: That the Council of Australian Governments implements a national transport concession scheme for all full-time students in Australia, permitting the use of concessions for interstate travel.

Recommendation three: That universities in New South Wales fund a transport concession scheme for their international students, in the interim.

This campaign is coordinated by the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, in partnership with the Council of International Students Australia and the National Union of Students. The campaign includes the joint effort of all campus-based student associations in New South Wales:

  • Newcastle University Postgraduate Students Association
  • Newcastle University Students’ Association
  • Southern Cross Postgraduate Association
  • Students’ Representative Council, University of Sydney
  • Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association
  • University of New South Wales Postgraduate Council
  • University of New South Wales Student Representative Council
  • University of Technology Sydney Students Association
  • University of Western Sydney Student Representative Council
  • University of Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association
  • Wollongong University Postgraduate Association

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”.

CAPA endorses WorkCover Queensland’s decision that PhD students are workers

WorkCover Queensland has determined that Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students on stipends are considered workers under the Queensland Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, and thus their stipends are considered to be wages for the purposes of workers’ compensation insurance.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes this determination. It is a landmark decision that HDR students in Queensland are now rightfully entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries sustained while conducting their research.

WorkCover based their determination on factors including that the university has a large amount of control over how and where the research is conducted, that research students’ work cannot be delegated to others, that the students have access to leave benefits, and that their stipend can be terminated by the university for unsatisfactory performance.

HDR students contribute substantially to their universities’ research output, and regularly work on the projects of their supervisors and colleagues. WorkCover’s ruling is a recognition of the importance of postgraduate research students to the research sector.

It is unjust that HDR students are often treated as salaried employees, often staying in their labs or offices far beyond standard working hours at the behest of their supervisors, but are paid below minimum wage.

We therefore call on Australian universities to raise the value of their stipends to at least minimum wage, and to offer stipends to all full time HDR students, in recognition that their contributions are a form of employment.

We thank WorkCover Queensland for their decision to recognise the rights of postgraduate students.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

CAPA calls for university counselling services to increase capacity

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) demands that university counselling services address long waiting lists and restrictions on student access, in a submission to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

CAPA investigated counselling services available at Victoria’s nine public universities, finding that all except two only offer short-term counselling. Most universities restrict their students to a maximum of six counselling sessions a year, with one university only allowing up to three counselling sessions. This means that students who are assessed at their initial appointment as requiring more counselling appointments are turned away, and told to access external services which they often cannot afford.

University counselling services are often the first port-of-call for a student with mental distress, but many have protracted waiting lists. Three Victorian universities warn on their websites that there may be long delays to see a counsellor.

There have been countless surveys and studies on student wellbeing which have found that students are prone to suffering from mental health issues. Marginalised groups of students, including low socio-economic status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and LGBTQIA+ students are particularly vulnerable.

We recognise that university counsellors are tasked with an important job which is essential to university communities. More resources – not restructuring – are needed to ensure that university counselling services can accommodate those who need help. If universities are unable to provide additional mental health support, the Government must step in to ensure a suitable minimum level of service.

“It is unacceptable that university counselling services are so underfunded that they are turning away students who have taken the difficult step of asking for help,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams. “Urgent action is needed to boost the capacity of counselling services.”

Our full submission to the Royal Commission is available here.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au

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.

Attacks on Australia’s renowned student loans system must stop, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is concerned about continued legislative attacks weakening the Australian student loans system.

The Higher Education Support (Charges) Bill and the Higher Education Support Amendment (Cost Recovery) Bill was introduced to the lower house today by Minister for Education Dan Tehan.

The Charges bill will, for the first time, create an annual fee to higher education providers for the administration of HECS-HELP or FEE-HELP loans. This will save the Government $13.8 million over several years. The Charges bill sits alongside the Cost Recovery bill, which facilitates collection of the annual charge. It also creates a new application fee for higher education providers for their students to be eligible for FEE-HELP.

Introducing taxes on higher education, as this legislation will do, is an attack on our student loans system. HELP, previously known as HECS, is envied the world over for enabling access to higher education for those who cannot afford it upfront. Numerous countries including New Zealand, England, Japan, and the Netherlands have implemented student loans schemes closely based on the Australian model. Currently, the inventor of HECS is assisting Brazil to develop their own version of the student loans scheme.

Despite the global acclaim of Australia’s well-designed student loans system, the Coalition Government is attempting to dismantle HELP and transfer upfront costs back to students. Last year, the Government implemented a borrowing cap which means that tens of thousands of postgraduate students will have to pay fees upfront. Only days ago, the income repayment threshold was retroactively lowered so those earning barely above minimum wage will have to start paying back their loans – despite signing up to these loans under a different set of terms. And now, the Government is seeking to tax higher education providers for facilitating access to HELP. This tax will end up being passed to students, either through an increase in fees for postgraduate and international students, or through a reduction in services available to students.

“Our student loans system enables upward mobility for Australians who wish to go to university in pursuit of higher-paying employment, even if they cannot afford tuition fees upfront,” says CAPA President, Natasha Abrahams.

“It is essential that we retain HELP, instead of slowly pulling it apart with various pieces of legislation.”

Going forward, we implore the Government to make considered policy decisions on higher education in the future, rather than introducing piecemeal legislation to make quick savings.

CAPA last year wrote a submission to the Senate inquiry on the legislation, recommending that the Government halt the legislation and instead investigate the soaring costs of tuition fees, particularly for postgraduate study.
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For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993
E: president@capa.edu.au