Submission on ‘COVID-19: From a research student’s perspective.’

Download : Submission on COVID-19: From a research student’s perspective.’

The global COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy burden on our society, and among the most vulnerable groups are self-funded postgraduate research students. Inadequate access to income was already a major contributing factor to poor mental health among students and many now face graduating during a severe economic downturn, and being exposed to poor career outcomes.
We are particularly concerned that the additional burdens from COVID-19 will lead to a surge of research students withdrawing from their degrees. This will have a significant impact on the international reputation of our universities, as research students contribute to 56% of paid hours of research and development (ABS 2018).

Our submission focuses on issues experienced by domestic and international Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students, and how they are currently falling through the cracks when it comes to relief funding.
We recommend:

  1. That government provide one-off payments to universities to support RTP scholarship
    extensions to 4.5 years for all HDR students at all universities
  2. That all domestic self-funded postgraduate students be eligible to receive Austudy,
    subject to means-testing
  3. A Jobmaker initiative should include research jobs by increasing public research
    funding initiatives (e.g., ARC, NHMRC, research block grant, or other research
    infrastructure funding) that will stimulate industry collaborations that will create new
    jobs by developing new industries (e.g., start-ups/spin off businesses)
  4. That free visa extensions and ongoing financial support be made available for
    international postgraduate students to allow greater flexibility for them to convert
    their degrees to equivalent part-time student load (EPTSL)

CAPA welcomes amendments to research training program to support HDR students.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the recent announcement by the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education to amend the research training program (RTP). These amendments to the Commonwealth Scholarships Guidelines (Research) 2017 and Other Grant Guidelines (Research) 2017 will enable universities to provide greater flexibility and support for research students that have had their candidatures adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Enrolled research students are actively engaged in cutting-edge innovation in all areas of national interest; with the expectation to complete their degrees within 4 years (EFTSL) for PhD students, or 2 years (EFTSL) for research masters students. The unexpected disruption by COVID-19, has justifiably affected the progress of many research students, in various ways across the country. 

We are pleased that the Department of Education has allowed:

  1. The option for universities to temporarily extend RTP scholarships for doctoral and  masters research degrees, for a maximum duration of 4 years and 6 months, and 2 years 6 months respectively. 
  2. Allowing more flexibility for universities to fund RTP scholarships for international students, by relaxing the current 10% RTP funding cap restrictions currently in place. 
  3. 60 days paid sick leave at the discretion of the the higher education provider 

“While these amendments are a welcome first step, we need more research funding to support current students to completion and to sustain research into the future. Economic recovery depends on maintaining the global reputation of Australia’s universities, which is highly dependent on research activities”, says CAPA National President Romana Begicevic.

With finite funds, universities face the stark choice between funding current students and sustaining future enrolments. A once off payment to the Research Training Program to support any students that require an extension in these trying times will ensure universities can support their students rather than add further pressure to falling research funding. This is why CAPA, with the support of the Australian Council of Graduate Research  (ACGR), will continue to lobby the government to secure more research funding which will be crucial to the recovery phase of this crisis. 
For comment:
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404