The global COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy burden on our society, and among the most vulnerable groups are self-funded postgraduate research students. Inadequate access to income was already a major contributing factor to poor mental health among students and many now face graduating during a severe economic downturn, and being exposed to poor career outcomes.
We are particularly concerned that the additional burdens from COVID-19 will lead to a surge of research students withdrawing from their degrees. This will have a significant impact on the international reputation of our universities, as research students contribute to 56% of paid hours of research and development (ABS 2018).
Our submission focuses on issues experienced by domestic and international Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students, and how they are currently falling through the cracks when it comes to relief funding.
CAPA welcomes amendments to research training program to support HDR students.
The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the recent announcement by the Hon Dan Tehan MP, Minister for Education to amend the research training program (RTP). These amendments to the Commonwealth Scholarships Guidelines (Research) 2017 and Other Grant Guidelines (Research) 2017 will enable universities to provide greater flexibility and support for research students that have had their candidatures adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Enrolled research students are actively engaged in cutting-edge innovation in all areas of national interest; with the expectation to complete their degrees within 4 years (EFTSL) for PhD students, or 2 years (EFTSL) for research masters students. The unexpected disruption by COVID-19, has justifiably affected the progress of many research students, in various ways across the country.
We are pleased that the Department of Education has allowed:
“While these amendments are a welcome first step, we need more research funding to support current students to completion and to sustain research into the future. Economic recovery depends on maintaining the global reputation of Australia’s universities, which is highly dependent on research activities”, says CAPA National President Romana Begicevic.
With finite funds, universities face the stark choice between funding current students and sustaining future enrolments. A once off payment to the Research Training Program to support any students that require an extension in these trying times will ensure universities can support their students rather than add further pressure to falling research funding. This is why CAPA, with the support of the Australian Council of Graduate Research (ACGR), will continue to lobby the government to secure more research funding which will be crucial to the recovery phase of this crisis.
CAPA National President Romana-Rea Begicevic
M: 0420 258 404