MEDIA RELEASE: Statement by Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) for improving the quality of education

Statement by Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) for improving the quality of education

Dear universities,

COVID-19 has permanently transformed the education sector. The impacts of which will be felt for years to come by university officials, academic staff and students. Students are questioning their choice of education. Those who wished to utilise the knowledge and skills, gained during their degrees to form a better future for themselves, are now experiencing an existential crisis and face graduating during the worst economic downturn in history. 

A recurring theme from student feedback, across various forms of communication, which is the lack of quality education provided by their respective schools through remote teaching, especially relative to the tuition fees that students pay. Some of this feedback is clearly reflected in data collected by the universities such as from the SWiRL and TWiRL surveys this year. The reports of which were supposed to improve educational services for the future, however, students are still reporting dissatisfaction with their study experience and are asking for better value for money. CAPA has expressed concerns around this to TEQSA and we are working together to address some of these issues. In line with maintaining a high standard for education, universities must ensure the same standard is applied to the blended model, which will most likely remain post-pandemic. Our recommendations below address the needs of all students, including those who are unable to return to Australia. 

In consideration of the universities precarious financial position, we acknowledge that a straight-fee reduction may be challenging for continuation of the universities functions however, we expect universities to place greater emphasis on the quality of education through feasible avenues that resonate with students’ expectations. The recommendations mentioned below have been formulated after consultation with our members and TEQSA, while considering the Joint statement of Principles for the Higher Education Sector COVID-19 Response, supported by Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and endorsed by Australian Council of Professions (ACoP), Universities Australia (UA), the Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA), the Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) and the Independent Higher Education Australia (IHEA). The principles can be viewed here.

List of recommendations by classification:

Academic Support 

We ask that universities: 

  • Establish minimum standards for interactive learning processes (for eg. Live tutorials, quizzes etc.) and effective dissipation of knowledge and communicates the standards with all teaching staff, collect data on interactive elements of all courses and their structure throughout the semester, and share details of interactive elements with all students and staff before commencement of classes. 
  • Ensure that clear instructions regarding the structure of each course (classes, interactive tutorials, reading materials, assessments etc) are provided and communicated properly prior to commencement of classes. 
  • If courses are deemed to not meet the standards as set, the university holds accountability by reducing the respective course fees by a reasonable amount after benchmarking across the sector and thoroughly analysing the value of the course(s) (interactive blended versus online only). 
  • All academic staff increase the available number of consultation hours and communicate these hours properly. This should be implemented with consideration of increased workload for the staff, and extra budgetary provisions should be made for the payment of any casual labour that may be required to maintain safe and reasonable workload levels for all staff. 
  • Continue the provision of special consideration to all students with reasonable demand on documentation. 

Student Experience support 

We ask that universities: 

  • Provide clear and timely communication for all decisions and changes that could affect students in their university experience.
  • Where the university cannot meet the quality of education expected for their tuition fees, the university may consider a compromise to improve the student experience. We would like to see  universities  negotiate with their respective student association(s) to secure an increase to their annual SSAF funding.

Additional support for students outside of Australia who are unable to return 

We ask that: 

  • These students are offered a separate wellbeing service dedicated to provide them advice and direction for all mental and physical wellbeing related issues.
  • A separate grant program is established for students in dire financial need.

Continual support 

We ask that: 

  • Students who are graduating in mid-2020 or end of 2020 will be provided with vouchers for enrolment in micro-credential courses that would assist them with future career progression. 
  • A separate FAQ and helpline be set up to assist international students in navigating with migration and visa related queries.
  • Universities do not increase tuition fees and accommodation rental fees for continuing students in 2021.

CAPA believes that implementing these recommendations would assist in improving the quality of education moving forward and enhance the sectors’ resilience in the future. 

END
For comment:
CAPA National President Romana Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404
E: president@capa.edu.au

Download: Response to the Higher Education Support Amendment (Job-ready Graduates and Supporting Regional and Remote Students) Bill 2020: First Exposure Draft

Both CAPA and NATSIPA support the aim of producing “Job-ready Graduates”. However, we have concerns that varying student contributions will not achieve the desired outcome. In order to improve this package, we recommend:

  1. That no unit is subject to a charge higher than the current highest rate.
  2. That universities do not receive less funding per student than currently.
  3. CSPs should be indexed to both CPI and national population growth.
  4. Amending the legislation to extend the measures for demand-driven student places to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, irrespective of their location.
  5. Schedule 4 of the Bill enforcing and regulating a 50% pass requirement should be removed in its entirety.