2002 – Implementing the Research Training Scheme: The consequences for postgraduate research students

Attachment: CAPA Paper

The introduction of the Research Training Scheme (RTS) has placed considerable pressure on Australian universities to improve the proportion of enrolled postgraduate research students who complete their degrees (completion rates), and to shorten the amount of time they take to do so (completion times). Universities have revised or introduced a variety of policies in order to encourage timely completions. A wealth of information on university strategies to encourage timely completion can be found in the annual Research and Research Training Management Reports (RRTMR) which universities must submit to the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) in order to fulfil the reporting requirements of the Scheme. While in many cases it is still too early to assess the impact of these policies on postgraduate research students, early indicators can be found both within university RRTMRs, and from the feedback of postgraduate student associations.

This paper provides information on the RTS for postgraduate student association office bearers or staff members who may be unfamiliar with the Scheme. It also analyses the RRTMRs of the 38 Australian public universities and identifies broad trends in terms of universities’ responses to the RTS. The intention is to provide postgraduate student associations with more detailed knowledge of the variety of university policy responses to the Scheme, and to discuss the positive or negative effects of these policies on postgraduate research students. It is hoped that this will assist postgraduate student associations to support the implementation of more ‘research-student-friendly’ policies at their universities, as well as alert them to the potential dangers of other policies.

Attachment: CAPA Submission

There is no doubt that Australian universities are currently in a state of crisis as reported in last year’s Senate Inquiry into Higher Education report Universities in Crisis. The shock-waves of the funding cuts imposed by successive Federal governments still reverberate through the sector, and there seems little light on the horizon. In this climate, it is students who don’t fit traditional stereotypes (young, fit, financially secure), who require extra human and financial resources, who suffer most.

Students with disabilities often find themselves outside of this mould, and for them, along with other equity groups (such as Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, students from low SES backgrounds, women, and NESB students), the higher education sector can be a less than welcoming place. Large classes, a lack of resources, and spiralling staff-student ratios, impact particularly on these groups.

However, the situation is not completely bleak. Since the release of the Federal policy document A Fair Chance for All: Higher Education that’s within Everyone’s Reach in 1990, and the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act in 1992, the sector has been making (in certain areas) a concerted effort to raise the participation rate of equity groups. In this document, we seek to set out examples of best practice, as well as drawing attention to areas where improvement is needed.