MEDIA RELEASE: 2022-2023 Federal Budget – Big Budget, Small Ideas

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the Budget’s new funding towards research. However, we are not supportive of the way the funding will be distributed, as an uneven playing field will be created where recent graduates and early career researchers may be disadvantaged. It is imperative for Australia’s future economic prospects that we retain our young research experts and not lose them to overseas markets, which beckon with more enticing opportunities. 

The Budget fails to respond to the call made by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) for additional funding to support the sector. We have seen staff and students continue to bear the brunt of the cost-cutting measures at universities through job losses, restructures, and a deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning.

CAPA is supportive of the international student incentive program that will refund visa fees for international students who arrived in Australia by 19 March. However, these students, who will fill the critical staff shortages in our floundering hospitality sector, still pay outrageous tuition fees for what appears to be an ongoing online or blended learning experience. Failing to properly fund our universities pushes our beacons of education and intellectual inquiry further down the path of being businesses competing for limited funding, and offering subpar services for obtuse prices.

In our budget submission this year, as in previous years, we are lobbying for better welfare support for postgraduate students who often don’t meet the criteria for Youth Allowance or Austudy. We call on the Federal government to create a special recipient category for postgraduate students to receive the one-off $250 payment earmarked for welfare recipients in April, as many postgraduates will likely be excluded if they’re not current for Youth Allowance, Austudy, or ABSTUDY payments.

“There is something fundamentally wrong in the way research is addressed in this country. The policies are sensationalised, but lack forethought and substance”, says Errol Phuah, CAPA National President.

Buzzwords alone will not grow an innovative or productive population. Buzzwords alone will not create jobs nor save jobs. Buzzwords alone will not help us to keep our best and brightest minds from taking their big ideas for commercialisation, overseas.

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For comment:
Acting NATSIPA National President Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer 
M: 0417 239 909
E: president@natsipa.edu.au

CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167
E: president@capa.edu.au

The 2021 National Student Safety Survey findings were recently released and documented the unacceptable and continued prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault experienced by university students, since the first national survey conducted in 2016 by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduates Association (NATSIPA) acknowledge the apology made to “every single university student who has experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault”, made by Professor John Dewar AO, Universities Australia (UA) Chair, on behalf of UA and its 39 university members.

One in five (21.3%) females had experienced sexual harassment in a university context compared with 7.6% of males. Since starting at university, 4.2% of undergraduate students had been sexually assaulted compared with 4.8% of postgraduate coursework students and 5.7% of postgraduate research students.

Between 25-40% of gender-diverse students had been sexually harassed in a university context. Between 22-40% of sexuality-diverse students had been sexually harassed in a university context, compared with 13% of heterosexual students. One in three (29.1%) students with a disability had been sexually harassed in a university context, compared with 13.5% of other students.

The report found that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students are more likely to be sexually harassed in a university context than any other students. In fact, the study found that one in five (21.4%) Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students had been sexually harassed in a university context compared to 16% of students who did not identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. In addition, one in eight (12.0%) Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students had been sexually harassed in a university context in the past 12 months compared with 8.0% of other students. “How can we ever ‘Close the Gap’ on educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with statistics like this,” said Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, President of NATSIPA.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are being disproportionately experienced by university students who identify as being one or more of the following: women, postgraduates, gender-diverse, sexuality-diverse, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, or have a disability.

The perpetrators of 84% of sexual harassment in a university context, and 85.7% of sexual assault in a university context, were males.

CAPA and NATSIPA recognise that Australian universities have implemented hundreds of initiatives since the 2016 national survey to prevent and better respond to assault and harassment. Despite these efforts, sexual assault and sexual harassment of students remains prevalent and is still largely a gender-based issue, with complex intersectionality and marginalisation factors, which allows for a culture to exist where university spaces are unsafe spaces for our most vulnerable students.

Some of this problematic culture subsists in university workplaces, where postgraduate research students were 22.3% more likely than other students to be sexually harassed by a university staff member, including lecturers, tutors, and research supervisors.

CAPA and NATSIPA call on the Federal Government to adequately resource Australian universities so they can continue and strengthen their response and prevention strategies. Emphasis needs to be placed on evidence-based training for all staff and students that addresses the drivers of gender-based violence, as recommended in the 2020 Respect@Work Report by the AHRC on sexual harassment in the workplace. Smaller and regional universities that may not have the resources to deliver such training should receive additional Federal Government funding.

University spaces are now increasingly online spaces, with the continuation of blended and flexible learning options. Slightly more than one in ten students had been sexually harassed in the past 12 months in a university online space. Continuing to increase awareness of and improve reporting and support pathways for students who have experienced sexual assault and/or sexual harassment, are important initiatives deserving increased funding and prioritisation by university leadership.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment of students in university spaces is unacceptable”, said Errol Phuah, CAPA National President. “It’s particularly important for men to acknowledge that this is a men’s issue that we have a big role in fixing”, he said. “I call on my fellow male student leaders to complete the training, do the work, and have the tough conversations. We are not looking to take something away from men; we are asking for cooperation towards changing the attitude. It is our shared responsibility to help create the cultural change needed to make university spaces safe and inclusive for everyone”.

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For comment:
Acting NATSIPA National President Dr Sharlene Leroy-Dyer 
M: 0417 239 909
E: president@natsipa.edu.au

CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167
E: president@capa.edu.au

Download: Joint Submission (Public Universities Australia) – Response to the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018

Public Universities Australia is a nation-wide alliance of organisations and individuals that connects academic professors and students (https://puau.org/). All are concerned with the current state of Australian universities and committed to ensure that the value and function of Australian universities for the broader public is fully realised. Public Universities Australia aims to give expression to the voices of all academics, all students and alumni, and all professional staff of Australian public universities. Public Universities Australia is independent of government and other directions.

Funding cuts and grant vetoes do not only affect academics and staff; they change the atmosphere on campus. Students feel and share the disappointment of lecturers, supervisors, friends and mentors. They share the same passion for pursuing knowledge for the betterment of society. Therefore, political vetoes hurt students just as deeply. More importantly, they take away the students’ sense of hope for a brighter future when they see their role models lose the jobs they love.

To deny academics pursuing what they love, especially when their intellectual peers have validated the quality of their proposal, is counterproductive for individuals, for our communities, and for society as a whole.

Finally, political interference has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous research and academics, thus constituting a blatant example of a culturally disrespectful approach.

In summary, while we believe that there should be a necessary degree of political oversight in establishing the ARC and in periodically reviewing its operation, merit decisions ought to be free from political interference and be solely based on academic criteria if Australia is to improve its standing as a knowledge-economy on the world stage.

As a result, we fully support the proposed amendments contained in subsections 51(1), 51(2) and 52(4) of the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018.

Download: Response to the Australian Research Council Amendment (Ensuring Research Independence) Bill 2018

The significance of this amendment will have a profound impact on current and future generations. Continuing to permit ministerial intervention sends a negative message to future generations that their passions, an integral part of individual identity, will not be backed by the place they call home. It will discourage self-expression and disenfranchise the current and future generations from reaching their true potential.

Funding cuts and grant vetoes do not only affect academics and staff; it changes the atmosphere on campus. As students, we often feel and share the disappointment of our lecturers, supervisors, friends and mentors. Consider a student’s perspective, seeing their role model lose their jobs because their expertise is ‘not of public interest’. What message does that send to future generations of a bright and hopeful future?

Recommendation:

Our view is that intervention by a ministerial decision impedes academic freedom and disrespects the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We have provided examples of foreign nations that entrust independent decision making by their academics and have protected funding for fundamental research. This is a research policy we would recommend Australia adopt as well and thereby propose:

  • The amendment containing subsections 51(1), 51(2) and 52(4) of the Australian Research Council Act 2018 be accepted in the interest of academic freedom.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations welcomes any new money to public research funding. However, the current amount is still a far cry away from what is needed to take Australia’s public spending on R&D to the levels of other OECD countries. 

CAPA National President Errol Phuah said it is great that research is getting some attention. The current amount can help create a few extra opportunities for new PhD students, and some job opportunities for recent graduates. 

“The issues are that it is not enough and whether some of the money will be put back to areas where funding has been cut”, says Mr Phuah. “The money lost from the sector would have been dispersed more evenly across more areas of research.”

The push towards commercialisation and national priorities has put a focus on some research areas, whilst neglecting others. It represents a bright future for some careers and moves towards ending the careers of others.

“The people affected are researchers, supervisors, and our lecturers who may have dedicated their entire careers to becoming experts in their field. Yet someone has decided their research is not of public interest and does not deserve funding.

Was coronavirus or mRNA vaccine research of public interest five years ago? These research areas are definitely of public interest now, but nobody could have predicted this back then. This is why we should not try to pick winners.” 

CAPA’s pre-budget response includes our independent research that recommends an overall increase in public research funding by 4 billion dollars between the ARC, NHMRC, CSIRO and CRC initiatives. 

The industry-engagement side of research funding has mostly been addressed by this announcement and CAPA echos the NTEU’s recommendation that the ARC and NHMRC be funded 1 billion dollars each.

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For comment:
CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167
E: president@capa.edu.au


The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has submitted its 2022-2023 Pre-Budget submission to Treasury – a copy of our submission can be found here.

Our submission takes a bold stance to highlight the challenges postgraduates have experienced for decades. We feel it accurately represents the resentment felt by our cohort and provides recommendations based on the most recent data available. 

Our recommendations include: 

  1. Increase government investment expenditure into R&D by a sum of 4 billion annually to match the commitment of other nations.
    • Fundamental (‘Blue Sky’) research should be funded at the recommendation of the ARC and not fall under the scrutiny of industry representatives.
       
  2.  Income support payments must be extended to all full-time domestic postgraduate students
     
  3. The minimum stipend rate of the Research Training Program (RTP) must increase by $150-$250 per week to remain consistent with historical precedence.
     
  4. Extend the Medicare subsidised 20 psychologist session cap into 2023.
     
  5. The government investigate options for price regulation of postgraduate coursework degrees.
     

 “Australia boasted 30 years of continuous economic growth, and what do we have to show long-term? A soaring real estate market now at speculative and at unaffordable levels?” says CAPA National President Errol Phuah. “..and what would happen to that wealth if that property market crashes?”

We need a government that has the vision to properly invest in tangible assets; assets that will bring real wealth to the country through the good times and the bad. These investments include supporting people through higher education, R&D funding and infrastructure. This has formed the basis of our Pre-budget submission for 2022-2023.

CAPA looks forward to the upcoming budget announcement and, we hope our recommendations will be considered. 
 

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CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167
E: president@capa.edu.au

Download: 2022-2023 Pre-Budget Submission

Overview:

Investments in research and the higher education sector have been declining over several years, and the consequences will be irreparable if left unaddressed. Furthermore, we are concerned Australia’s future innovators will be ill-prepared to contribute competitively in the post-covid environment.

We anticipate innovators of the future will be current and prospective postgraduate students. Thus, for the purpose of this submission, we identified the critical areas of a crisis affecting this demographic and concluded with the following recommendations:

  1. Increase government investment expenditure into R&D by a sum of 4 billion AUD annually to match the commitment of other nations.
    1. The additional funds should be divided between the ARC, NHMRC, CSIRO and CRC.
    2. National priorities and industry-driven research should be channelled through the CSIRO and CRC initiatives.
    3. Fundamental (‘Blue Sky’) research should be funded at the recommendation of the ARC and not fall under the scrutiny of industry representatives.
  2. Income support payments must be extended to all full-time domestic postgraduate students
  3. The minimum stipend rate of the Research Training Program (RTP) must increase by $150-$250 per week to remain consistent with historical precedence.
  4. Extend the Medicare subsidised 20 psychologist session cap into 2023.
  5. The government investigate options for price regulation of postgraduate coursework degrees.