CAPA/NATSIPA response to ACOLA discussion paper: Enhancing Research Outcomes from Australia’s Regional, Rural and Remote Universities

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