MEDIA RELEASE: CAPA rejects proposal to cut funding for postgrad degrees

CAPA rejects proposal to cut funding for postgrad degrees

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) opposes the Government’s proposal to slash funding for postgraduate coursework degrees.

Over two thirds of domestic postgraduate coursework students already pay full fees. In other words, the Government does not contribute to the cost of their education through a Commonwealth Supported Place (CSP). The majority of postgraduate coursework students are paying huge amounts of money for their degrees, which are overwhelmingly undertaken as a professional entry requirement or to improve employment prospects. As admitted by the Department in their discussion paper, there is “currently little basis to the allocation of CSPs”.

The Government previously announced that they will gut the number of Government-subsidised places by 3000 – close to five percent of the current allocation. The Department is doing the dirty work of conducting a review to decide which postgraduate courses will fall victim to the cuts.

While in general it is good to examine higher education policy and funding allocations, CAPA is cautious of the outcomes of this review given the large swathes of funding cuts announced to universities over the past year. We believe that policy changes should be made based on evidence, rather than on blindly cutting costs to achieve short-term benefits to the bottom line.

Reducing – rather than increasing – the number of postgraduate CSPs ignores the economic landscape in which students are increasingly having to undertake postgraduate degrees. This is in part due to the rise of the ‘Melbourne model’ in which students undertake a generalist undergraduate degree followed by a professional Masters degree. Our research – conducted jointly with the National Union of Students, University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association, and University of Western Australia Student Guild – found that typical fee costs for popular study combinations under the Melbourne model are between $70,000 and $120,000. Cutting CSPs will mean that more students will be forced into a position of paying extortionate sums for their education.

“Like many other higher education funding cuts over the past year, cutting 3000 student places will have a relatively small impact on the Government’s coffers, but a large harmful impact on affected individuals,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“We furthermore caution against cuts to enabling courses, which facilitate preparation and entry to university study for those who do not meet the entry requirements. Reducing accessibility to these courses caps opportunity for vulnerable Australians who wish to undertake an education and improve their employment prospects.”

CAPA will be lodging a submission in response to the Department of Education’s discussion paper.

For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993

Culture wars provoked with Tehan’s pointless free speech review, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is perplexed that the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, has ordered a review into free speech at university campuses.

We are concerned that conservative commentators have stirred an uproar over a non-issue in order to attack universities. One would think that the Government has learnt its lesson in not listening to the bleatings of a loud and unrepresentative few. However, Minister Tehan has legitimised the false narrative of attacks on free speech by ordering an enquiry.

There is no threat to free speech on university campuses. Universities are traditionally a place of robust discourse and radical thought. In recent months, student protesters speaking out against views they disagree with have been characterised as attacks on free speech.

CAPA strongly believes in the right of students to organise and express their views. We disagree that this type of expression is preventing free speech of more conservative views; rather, it is a way of engaging and arguing against these views.

For example, in August, students at the University of Western Australia argued against the views of a prominent speaker they criticised for being transphobic. In articulating why they believed the views to be damaging and outdated, they exercised their right to free speech. The university eventually cancelled the venue booked for the event (citing a failure of organisers to provide the necessary paperwork) which does not prevent the event being held elsewhere. However, this is the type of discourse which commentators have pointed to as being examples of challenges to free speech.

Similar panics about suppression of conservative viewpoints have recently occurred in England and the United States, despite a stunning lack of evidence for there being a problem. It is concerning that Minister Tehan is leading Australia to follow into the culture wars.

“The review is contrived, pointless, and a total waste of taxpayer money at a time when students and universities are being told to do their bit for ‘budget repair’,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“Like many of the Government’s recent actions in higher education policy and funding, this review is emblematic of their increasingly blatant disdain for education and research in Australia.”

Furthermore, this review comes just weeks after it was revealed that the former Minister for Education secretly vetoed eleven humanities and social sciences projects which had been awarded funding by the Australian Research Council. If the Government is concerned about free speech in universities, we suggest that they first examine their own clandestine actions designed to constrain intellectual inquiry.

For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993

CAPA condemns Government’s latest attack on research

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is deeply disappointed in the news that the Government will slash research funding in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

The cuts to research block grants are the latest assault on scientific inquiry in Australia. Research block grants are in two buckets: the Research Training Program (RTP) that provides stipends to research students, and the Research Support Program which contributes to the cost of conducting research. The Minister has indicated that the cuts will come from a freeze on the Research Support Program.

This announcement comes just weeks after it was revealed that the former Minister for Education vetoed research funding for eleven successful Australian Research Council (ARC) applications in the humanities and social sciences. This was followed by the Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, doubling down on his predecessor’s error in judgment by demanding the ARC introduce a national interest test for applicants, which adds no value to the existing application process but may be used to further political interests.

As the peak representative body for postgraduate students, CAPA is concerned that the cuts will impact the working conditions of doctoral students, who form the backbone of Australia’s research efforts – contributing the majority of research-hours performed in universities, and often doing the grunt work on their supervisors’ projects.

With increased awareness in recent years of student poverty and the related mental health risks of doctoral study, more funding – not less – is needed for this group which is increasingly under pressure. Since 2012, the number of RTP stipends for Australian students has remained stagnant, despite the number of commencing research students increasing over this time. At present, almost two-thirds of domestic research students do not have an RTP stipend (and research students are not eligible for any Centrelink study payments). Reducing research block grants ensures that this situation will get worse, not better.

“The Government has become increasingly blatant in their hostility towards universities and research over the past year,” says CAPA National President, Natasha Abrahams.

“It seems the Government does not want research to be conducted in Australia – unless that research aligns with their agenda.”

For comment:
CAPA National President Natasha Abrahams
M: 0430 076 993

Attachment – CAPA’s submission to HES Charges and Recovery bills

Overview – In our submission, we present three major concerns with this legislation. Firstly, any additional expense carried by a university will have implications for other budget lines. Secondly, this forms part of a broader pattern of the Government’s withdrawal of support for higher education, in a myopic attempt to perform budget repair. Finally, it is another step in dismantling the HECS-HELP system, a process commenced by the Government earlier this year.

Dan Tehan lets slip the dogs of deplore

Stephen Matchett, Campus Morning Mail

Perhaps Dan Tehan did not like Simon Birmingham getting all the credit from critics of humanities research. Whatever the reason, Education Minister Tehan yesterday promised a national interest test for Australian Research Council funding and that he would announce projects he does not approve of.

What happened then: “Given the ARC’s expert panels already consider national benefit and impact when making their assessments, how will a new test add value and not just more red tape,?” the Australian Academy of the Humanities was quick to complain.

“If all research funded is narrowly targeted at an immediate problem or outcome then we will undercut our future. Any national interest test must not be limited to a narrow reading,” the Innovative Research Universities argued.

“We do not expect the minister for education to be an expert on research, but we do expect that someone holding this portfolio defers to the panel of experts on the ARC,” the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations added.

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