CAPA’s response to the Review of the ARC Consultation Paper

Download: CAPA’s response to the Review of the ARC Consultation Paper

The aim of the Review is to consider the role and purpose of the ARC within the Australian research system so it can meet current and future needs and maintain the trust of the research sector.

The Review will consider how the ARC’s legislation can be aligned with comparable research agencies in Australia and overseas, current and proposed activities, and develop a clear focus on objectives and processes to drive renewed ambition within the organisation.

The Review will also consider whether the scope of the current legislation is sufficient to support an effective and efficient university research system and provide recommendations.

Our submission addresses the concerns of postgraduate students in relation to the consultation prompts provided in Terms of Reference.

Download: Response to the University Accords

CAPA is concerned with the current state of public universities in Australia as not-for-profit higher education providers created to serve the public good. We recognise the responsibility for higher education to form ethical and critical capacities in the population, specifically in the Humanities. 

Universities are responsible for nurturing public intellectuals who participate in knowledge generation to benefit their communities and society. These institutions should be free, secular, diverse, democratic, socially accountable, and publicly funded and controlled, recognising that the public system is the most appropriate means of delivering educational services based on social equity and academic freedom. 

We believe universities and academia are about the preservation, transmission and extension of knowledge for its own sake, the development of critical capacities and reasoning in an environment of vigorous academic freedom, and which actively fosters the development of abilities to challenge the status quo of one’s society.

Download: Response to the inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Australia, like many other countries around the world, and has allowed us to recognise the vulnerabilities within industry sectors. Throughout the pandemic, CAPA and NATSIPA have been vocal in the media and in submissions highlighting the inadequate support for international students and the consequence of inaction. 

The COVID restrictions highlighted many inequalities between international students and their domestic counterparts. Unstable income flow, inadequate social or family support network, unexpected changes to academic progression and visa restrictions negatively affect international students’ experience. Consequently, these barriers are likely to have contributed to the slow recovery of international student enrolments. 

For international students, Australia was a selection from a list of countries that could have invested in. their education. They would agree to the conditions of a student visa and contribute to Australia’s economy through employment and paying taxes. From their perspective, they had chosen Australia over other countries that also offered a world-class education.

At the height of the pandemic, international students in Australia had hoped their choice was worthy of recognition by governments and universities and that they would respond compassionately to this unprecedented crisis. Sadly the response fell short of their expectations leaving many disappointed and treated as ‘cash cows’.

Our submission will address the impact of the loss of international students on the higher education sector and make recommendations that will restore credibility among international students. 


Download: Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) 2022 Review

The last few years have been incredibly challenging for all of us and it, for this reason, we have all worked tirelessly to hold CAPA together through the most challenging time in its long history. 

While CAPA has been troubled by governance issues, we have kept CAPA in the policy conversations in Canberra driven by passion and conviction. We had to freeze our bank account and manage the best we could to pay CAPA’s bills and travel because we believed the postgraduate voices must be heard. 

I am proud to say we did our best under less than favourable circumstances and sought legal advice for myself and CAPA along the way. Both Saira, Sharlene and many of our affiliates are owed a big thank you for their moral support through this challenging year. 

Finally, I apologise for the length of the document; the reality is that much work has been done this year, and it came from a place of genuine passion. 

I hope the readers of this document find inspiration for what we tried to accomplish this year despite the obstacles placed in our way. 

Sincerely,

Errol Phuah

Download: Review of the Research Training Program (RTP): Is it fit for purpose?

Inflation and increasing cost of living are the product of the COVID pandemic, disrupted global supply chains affecting everyday Australians, and HDR students are no exception. Based on statistics shared by Universities Australia, approximately 60% of PhD students do not start their research degrees with a stipend scholarship leaving the remaining 40% with a minimum stipend living allowance of $554.88 a week for the year 2022.

In this report, we outline the current financial conditions of HDR students and the long-term economic benefits of PhD graduates to Australia’s future. We argue that the lack of state and federal government support over the years has deprived students of the basic needs required to perform at a highly intellectual level required during their research training. This will have long-term consequences for Australia’s innovative capacity and economic prosperity. 

Recommendations:

  1. That the minimum stipend rate of the Research Training Program be updated with a minimum increase of 15-20% for 2023 to ensure it remains above the poverty line.
  2. Subject to means testing, full-time non-RTP stipend recipients should be eligible for Austudy and ABSTUDY and/or should at least be eligible for a healthcare card.

Download: Response to the ‘Inquiry into the Provisions of the University of Tasmania Act 1992’

Our submission will address the Terms of Reference from the perspective of postgraduate students and provide examples that help demonstrate the poor transparency and accountability associated with existing centralised decision-making practices at Australian Universities. We note that not all the examples have taken place at the University of Tasmania. That said, all the examples have taken place at Australian Universities and are indicative of broader systemic and cultural issues impacting all Australian Universities, including the University of Tasmania.

Recommendations:

  1. The Government of Tasmania make the necessary amendments to the University of Tasmania Act 1992 by adopting an amended version of the ‘Model Act’ proposed by Public Universities Australia.

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”.

END

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.

END

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. 
 

END


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