Submission: Independent Review of the Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

Download: Independent Review of the Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

CAPA carries out its mission through policy, research, and activism, communicating the interests and issues of postgraduate students to higher education stakeholders as well as Federal and State Governments, Opposition parties, and minor parties. We welcome the opportunity to provide our views on the adoption and implementation of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom as recommended by the Hon Robert French AC in his 2019 Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers. As with our previous submissions to the Review and subsequent legislation, we strongly urge the Government to make the following changes:

Recommendation one: That a sector-wide code of conduct, must be compliant with legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and must not contravene universities’ obligations to provide a safe working environment. We recommend that the entrenched obstacles actually impeding Academic Freedom be fully recognised and addressed. A major threat includes the defunding of higher education and research, leading to a managerial or corporate approach to university operations across Australia. This has shifted the priorities of higher education providers away from educating and developing knowledge and toward competition, self preservation, and casualisation. Based on this, we further recommend:
Recommendation two: That the government restores higher education and research funding that has been cut over the last several years.
Recommendation three: That universities must promote long term employment practices, providing job security for their researchers and supporting them to investigate new, controversial, or uncertain topics.
Recommendation four: That legislation should be enacted to prevent any government interference or politicisation of research, and mandate transparency in federal research funding allocations and awards.
Recommendation five: That policies should be in place to ensure all students (undergraduates and postgraduate, domestic and internationals) continue to pay SSAF and that a minimum of 50% SSAF goes to student associations/unions. The proportion should be allocated to independent student-led associations and should be based on the FTE proportion of students enrolled. Policies should also be implemented to ensure a national standard for annual SSAF reporting for all public Australian Universities.

CAPA urges the Government: To prevent the next ‘Brain Drain’ fund researchers now 

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) are urgently renewing our calls to the Government for adequate funding to support postgraduate students, before we lose the next generation of brilliant talent, ahead of this year’s Budget. Contributing to over 50% of universities’ share of human resources dedicated to research (ABS 2018), graduate researchers are the often unseen backbone of the national research output, without which Australian research would grind to a halt. 

They have not only been at the forefront of getting us through this pandemic, by doing coronavirus research, Graduate students develop and share important new knowledge, by publication, which contributes to the university’s world rankings, and boosts the Australian higher education sector’s global reputation. Universities use these measures to distinguish themselves from each other and to attract international students to their campuses, which is important to the post-pandemic economic recovery.

“2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and postgraduate students have been no exception. Post COVID we face the biggest economic challenge our generation has ever confronted. We have heard so much about how education and research will be integral to rebuilding the economy. However, among all of these debates around reform, postgraduates have fallen between the cracks and left behind”, said CAPA’s National President Romana Begicevic.

CAPA has been raising concerns about the precarious position facing postgraduate students’ for years. COVID-19 has further exposed these cracks within the system. If we fail to support postgraduate students properly now, we are at risk of losing the next generation of brilliant talent. 

“This will result in a ‘brain drain’ where many graduates will instead venture overseas to explore more competitive career opportunities, or worse yet dropping out, because continuing their research is not financially sustainable. More importantly, we will lose the ability to respond to future pandemics. We believe our pre-budget recommendations would protect students from the very worst of these impacts”, explains Ms Begicevic.

CAPA calls on the governments to adequately fund postgrads and recommend:

  1. That all domestic Higher Degree by Research students be paid a stipend for the duration of their research degree.
  2. That all domestic self-funded postgraduate students be eligible to receive Austudy, subject to means-testing.
  3. That the Government provides ongoing adequate funding for university teaching and research.
  4. That the government provides a one-off payment to universities to support RTP scholarship extensions to 4.5 years for all HDR students at Australian universities. 
  5. 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). 
  6. That some attention and support be brought to addressing the mental health concerns of postgraduate students at universities, both coursework and research.  
  7. That the Government amends the Commonwealth Scholarships Guidelines to establish paid family violence leave, and provides an additional $491,000 to universities to fund a family violence leave scheme for recipients of Research Training Program stipends.

The value of postgraduate students to their university is more than just the tuition fee used for funding research or low-cost researchers. The real value of postgraduate students is much greater. We want to remind Australia the value of its postgraduate students, and why investing in them is investing in Australia’s future, through our #Valuepostgrads campaign! 

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404

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. 

For comment:
CAPA National President Romana Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404

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.