NATSIPA and CAPA would like to express our disappointment that The Accord Discussion Paper has failed to Acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty and connection to Country. The discussion paper also fails to consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as a specific group, with a specific set of questions for this group and notes that there was a limited reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the paper. In addition, the discussion paper largely positions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in terms of deficits that need to be remedied and pigeonholed in the equity and diversity sections of the paper alongside other marginal groups. We urge the Accord Panel to reverse this deficit-based approach. The discussion paper fails to Acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty and connection to Country.
CAPA and NATSIPA believe the Accord should be structured to address the existing higher education system’s existing inequalities. Its focus should reflect on systemic inequalities within our current policies, attitudes and practices, which discriminate against different groups within our society.
A key objective of the Accord ushers in a new system that increases choice and accessibility regardless of gender, race, ethnocultural background, age, socio-economic background, disability, mental health status and/or sexual identity. Successfully doing so would enable greater participation and allow more people to reach their full potential as active contributors to our society. Any decisions that relate to higher education should clearly include meaningful consultation and discussion with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across universities, industry, and VET.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations represents student organisations, including those based at regional universities; as such, regional advocacy falls within the scope of our representation. In November 2022, the Minister of Education, Jason Clare, declared addressing regional education as one of the priorities of the University Accords,
calling for ‘big ideas’. Unfortunately, most lobbying efforts from the sector overwhelmingly address city-centric issues, many of which do not consider the unique circumstances of regional universities. Consequently, the most common feedback from our regional members is the disconnect between higher education policy and regional universities, often translated to the deterioration of education quality and student experience.
Unlike their city-based counterparts, regional universities are responsible for providing local knowledge and expertise through research and professional training for their local communities. Thus, courses and research disciplines offered at these regional institutes reflect the demands of the local populous and are less suited for adapting to national priorities and changing market trends. Other artifacts of this unique circumstance include smaller class sizes, higher overhead costs for delivering education and a limited range of course offerings.
Throughout this report, we will frequently highlight nuances of regional universities and where the current higher education policy needs to be more effective in recognising the nuances of these institutions so they can better contribute to their local communities and society.
The early sections of this report will highlight mechanisms in the current higher education system that still need to address the nuance of regional universities, resulting in inequitable funding. We will cover aspects of university funding through domestic enrolments, research funding (competitive, national priorities and block funding) and overall support needed for students studying at regional universities. In later sections, we will cover the spillover consequences of these policies and Student Services Amenities Fees.
CAPA and NATSIPA believe the Accord should be structured to address the existing higher education system’s existing inequalities. Its focus should reflect on systemic inequalities within our current policies, attitudes and practices, which discriminate against different groups within our society. A key objective of the Accord ushers in a new system that increases choice and accessibility regardless of gender, race, ethnocultural background, age, socio-economic background, disability, mental health status and/or sexual identity. Successfully doing so would enable greater participation and allow more people to reach their full potential as active contributors to our society. Any decisions that relate to higher education should clearly include meaningful consultation and discussion with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across universities, industry, and VET.
The current limitations of our higher education system include the neoliberal ideologies and corporatisation of our university institutions which have distracted them from their original purpose of pursuing the academic mission of teaching and research. In recent years, universities have also been increasingly dragged into political debates of foreign interference, used as the panacea for addressing skills shortages, as the fourth largest export vital to Australia’s economy and national priorities.
Our concern is that the politicisation of higher education and universities will ultimately degrade these institutions’ intellectual integrity in maintaining rational bipartisanship in civil discourse.
Australian university graduates could face the biggest increase to their student debt in decades due to rising inflation.
But a federal parliamentary committee is examining a bill that would abolish the indexation of student debts to inflation and raise the minimum income required to start loan repayments.
Australia’s higher education loan system is tied to inflation and increases in line with the consumer price index (CPI), currently at 7.8 per cent.
According to the latest data from the Department of Education, over 1.6 million university students are currently enrolled and studying at Australian Universities. Many of these students are young adults who need to balance engaging in their education and securing an income to cover the cost of living.
Thus it should come as no surprise that many university students are currently struggling with the cost of living increases. Most notably, the impact of the increasing cost of living is most severe amongst the most vulnerable disadvantaged groups (i.e. lower socio-economic backgrounds, indigenous, international students, students with disabilities, regional students and women). In our response, we highlight the pain points currently affecting students (especially postgraduates) and key policy areas that will allow more significant support to the cohort we represent.
Angry academics are blaming university chiefs for “dumbing down’’ degrees to enrol students with low levels of literacy and numeracy as “cash cows’’.
With 200,000 international students flying into Australia to begin university courses this year, an alliance of academics and student and postgraduate associations known as Public Universities Australia has criticised falling academic standards.
The PUA has warned a Senate inquiry of the “dumbing down of student assessment tasks to accommodate higher numbers of both domestic and international students with lower levels of literacy and numeracy’’.
“(There is) the widespread attitude among senior management that students are ‘cash cows’,’’ PUA states in its submission, which it says is endorsed by Academics for Public Universities and the Australian Association of University Professors.
The PUA says university leaders frequently ignore the “core functions’’ of teaching, research and community outreach, while prioritising property development and investment vehicles.
It notes significant reductions in sessional class time, teaching instruction and support available to students, with significant increases in staff to student ratios since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Currently, there are 3 million Australians with outstanding student debts; over 66% of these debtors are represented by Australians aged between 20 and 40. The demographic represented includes low-income earners and young families already facing financial hardship due to the rising cost of living. In the context of this inquiry, we are concerned that some of the most vulnerable Australians will regress on paying off their student debt when the legislated indexation takes effect on June 1st.
Increasing the repayment rate at the minimum income repayment threshold to meet indexation would be an inappropriate response during a time when Australians, especially young families, are struggling with the cost of living. Many experiencing financial hardship have been advised to reach out to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) to arrange deferring payments, but this is a temporary solution that does not address the accumulation of debt through annual indexation.
A sequel to our Comparative Review of the ARC report, this report is more contentious than pointing out the discrepancies between our research agency, the governance, and their processes to those found overseas. We highlight the difference in attitude towards research, the differing views of the purpose of research and how some of the common recommendations may or may not be feasible but offer alternatives we have found based on precedence.
Finally, it will suggest that whatever form this transformation takes, a quick insert of a cultural value of a foreign country directly into our legislation is not a long-term solution. We should aim to express these ideals in a way that will resonate with the Australian Public, thereby making it uniquely Australian.
Students are pleading for reforms amid rising rent and cost of living, as experts warn research could suffer if people are put off higher study
Near Historical Low
In Australia, every full-time PhD candidate is entitled to apply for a federal government tax-free scholarship. It’s currently sitting at $29,863, although it increases each year with inflation.
The Greens education spokesperson, senator Mehreen Faruqi, said government support for doctoral students was “completely inadequate” and should be lifted.
“With the rising cost of living, many students are barely scraping by,” she said.
“If we want Australian universities to produce the best quality, world-leading research, the government has to provide our researchers with a stipend to support themselves and ease cost of living pressures.”
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations has been lobbying the government to classify PhD students as employees, which would enable greater leave entitlements and a guaranteed minimum wage. They say the minimum stipend should be increased by at least 15 to 20% in 2023 to ensure it remains above the poverty line.
“The work is the same, why aren’t we paid the same?” said Errol Phuah, the association’s national president.
Download: Comparative Review of the ARC
In our background research for the Review of the ARC Consultation Paper, we surveyed comparable research agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, France and Germany. Following the terms of reference to ‘reduce unnecessary administrative and legislative burden’, we decided to exclude some of the more elaborate operational structures found mainly in the French and German agencies.
Finally, we will address the concerns and challenges faced by postgraduate students in light of the abovementioned reflections and possible recommendations that will provide a competitive but level playing field for early career researchers. Above all, we look to recommend measures that are true to CAPA’s values which include the protection the academic freedom but also respect that this is achieved within the conventions of the Westminster system that our federal government operates under.