Vice-chancellors ‘should be university community’s choice’

New Australian lobby group targets transparency, collegiality and ‘reconceived governance’

December 20, 2021

John Ross

Australian higher education would be overseen by a “potent independent prudential advisory body” more akin to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission of the 1980s than today’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. Staff, students and alumni would dominate university governing councils, with administrators required to give all faculty a voice in academic decisions affecting their schools or departments.

And entire university communities would have a say in the appointment of their leaders, whose pay would be capped at double a professor’s salary.

This is part of the vision articulated by Public Universities Australia, an alliance of three foundation groups – the Australian Association of University ProfessorsAcademics for Public Universities (APU) and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations – with other organisations reportedly interested in signing on.

The new body’s mission is to protect universities from being “abused by a few privileged individuals or corporate entities”, according to a “lift-off” declaration on the group’s website. “[Universities] serve, and ought to be accountable to, the larger polity within which they are immersed,” it says.

The alliance chose its name as a deliberate counterpoint to the sector’s constituted peak group. “We’re trying to bring together all the…collective voices that are not necessarily represented by Universities Australia,” said APU member Alessandro Pelizzon, a comparative law specialist at Southern Cross University.

“They are an association of vice-chancellors, so by definition they are limited in their capacity to represent voices. We need something that really connects the plural voices of universities – students, graduate students, academics, professional staff, graduates, alumni, emeritus and so on.”

The declaration says people with commercial and corporate expertise must not dominate governing councils “or unduly influence their functions”. Chancellors and vice-chancellors “must be selected from among the most distinguished academics”, it adds.

Dr Pelizzon said the statement was an aspirational working document. “Some of the requests are far more achievable than others, and we’re very aware of that. For example, election of the vice-chancellor is highly unlikely to happen here in the current time [even though] it is the standard in most continental European institutions.

“We’re not expecting all of these things to happen at once, but these are the outcomes we would like to achieve. Most [involve] adopting worldwide norms. We’re not asking for anything novel or radical.”

He said the group’s three priority aims were “reconceived governance”, where councils were “populated primarily by people with expertise in the system”; transparency around universities’ finances and staffing; and a “collegial decision-making structure” that incorporated the voices of students as well as staff.

“That would be a way of balancing decisions that are taken somewhat unilaterally by the administrators,” he said. “For example, the reduction of face-to-face lectures makes logical sense in a digital world, but it’s not what students seem to want. If it’s not what students want and what academics feel comfortable with, then it may not be the best decision.”

Dr Pelizzon said the new body was refining its ideas ahead of next year’s federal election, and planned to lobby ministers, shadow ministers and all members of parliament with university campuses in their electorates. “We don’t think we will hold all the answers, but we believe the only way to get the answers is by having all voices be part of the conversation.”

See original story here.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations welcomes any funding boost to our universities. Additional funding cannot come soon enough with more jobs being lost every day; it plays its part in hurting the quality of education.

This pandemic has revealed many insights into the vulnerabilities at our universities, and we would like to see if Labour has a response to these endemic issues. The corporatisation of our universities is slowly diminishing the essence of what universities are about.

Universities are meant to be an environment that facilitates self-discovery in how to think. It is slowly turning into a technical school of what to learn. This pedagogy is changing, but we must always prioritise developing critical thinking skills in this competitive post-pandemic world.

“Proper funding is a symptom of the problem, not the root cause. Students have felt the conflicting interests at universities, and the quality of education has not been the priority,” says CAPA National President Errol Phuah.

“We don’t want universities to be punished, but we want to see policies that allow our universities to function as a university. –  Because universities play an integral role in our democratic societies.”

This nation promotes and defends democracy as part of its foreign policies. Therefore we expect any future government to emphasise universities in their policy platform in this upcoming Federal Election.  

For comment:

CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167

MEDIA RELEASE: “We welcomes the support for returning of international students, but more could be done,” says CAPA.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) welcomes the Commonwealth Government’s recent announcements around international students and the recent launch of the Australian Strategy for International Students.

Last year CAPA requested flexibility to the Temporary Graduate (subclass 485) for those affected by this pandemic. It is essential to recognise the value international students bring to our economy, and the recent announcements reflect an understanding of this.

This recent announcement includes eligibility for a temporary graduate visa to international students that continued their education overseas. The duration from two to three for masters by coursework students is also warmly welcomed.

Many international students felt they were taken for granted and treated as “cash cows” through this pandemic. This is a step towards repairing the tarnished relationship between international students and this country, but elements of the strategy stem from inherently flawed logic.

  1. Diversification – The border closure was necessary, but it indiscriminately barred international students from entering the country. Diversifying our international student enrolments would not have faired much better under these conditions. This has more undertones of geopolitical tension than addressing an actual issue.
  2. Global Competitiveness – Universities have been ridiculed for operating as a business with an over-reliance on international students. Yet, this strategy outlines a business model concerning ‘market share’ and ‘expanding further (into offshore markets)’. ’This contradiction implicitly encourages further reliance on international student enrollments.
  3. Student at the centre – To belong includes not being treated differently and there are many ways this can improve. International students currently pay full fees for public transport in two major states. They have significant visa restrictions that prevent converting to part-time study or making short trips overseas this holiday season.

“It’s great to see international education get some attention through all this, but it should always be about quality, not quantity,” says CAPA National President Errol.

CAPA firmly believes the quality of education should always remain the main priority of universities.

For comment:

CAPA International Officer Vineet Prabhakar

CAPA National President Errol Phuah

M: 0431 545 167

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations calls for international travel restrictions set on temporary migrants to be lifted. Currently, international students need to apply for an inwards exemption in advance with a ‘strong compassionate or compelling reason’ before they leave the country.

Departing the country without an inwards exemption means they will not be guaranteed safe passage back into Australia to resume their studies. This has left many international students torn. All they want to is return home over the holiday break and to reunite with family they have not seen throughout this pandemic.

“Last year international students were bluntly told can leave the country and there was nothing stopping them. Now ironically, many would very much like to go home but are feel they can’t because of this dateed piece of travel regulation.” says CAPA National President Errol Phuah.

CAPA has sent a letter to the office of the Home Affairs Minister the Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Education Minister the Hon. Alan Tudge MP and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship the Hon. Alex Hawke MP to address this matter and eagerly awaiting their response. We sincerely hope that this issue is simply an oversight that can be amended immediately.

International students are a vulnerable group in the population that were severely affected by the pendemic. There were no centerlink support for them, or medicare to support their mental health, the least we can do is allow them to return home and be with their families over the holiday.

For comment:

CAPA International Officer Vineet Prabhakar

CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167

Download: Response to the Consultation Paper on ‘Research Commercialisation IP Framework’

CAPA maintains our position that academic curiosity is fundamental to directing the graduate research experience. We acknowledge there is ‘no such thing as a free meal’, and where possible, the pursuit for new knowledge should be translated to benefit the communities and businesses. Key features of our address will be reflected in this response as follows:

  • Research students are not classified as employees, a consistent reminder that has been used to defend why PhD stipends are well below the minimum wage. The distinction between student and employment status needs to be acknowledged. Students should be rewarded a fair proportion of IP in a research partnership arrangement.
  • The development, management and protection of IP addressed in this framework should include research students as relevant partners/co-founders in any research collaboration.
  • This framework will help establish the foundations for collaborating and encourage participation between partners (industry, universities and research students).

Download: Submission: Response to the Consultation Paper on ‘Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030’

This paper responds to the discussion questions outlined in the Consultation Paper on ‘Australian Strategy for International Education 2021-2030’.

Questions we discuss:

  1. What are the key priorities for a new Australian Strategy for International Education?
  2. How can Australian education providers deliver the best possible student experience both now and in the future?
  3. What changes are needed to make Australia more globally competitive over the next decade?
  4. How can providers, governments and stakeholders work together to achieve diversification opportunities?
  5. What are the necessary skills for the future that students should be prepared for? How can Australia improve employability outcomes for international students, ensuring they have the necessary skills to compete in a globally competitive labour market?
  6. How do we create a uniquely Australian education experience? What is our value proposition for both international and domestic students?
  7. Community support for the international education sector is important for the sector’s social licence. How can the benefits that this sector provides to Australia be better understood by the wider community?

Survey of 6,000 prospective foreign candidates finds those set on studying in Australia becoming impatient for border restrictions to lift

Link to original article

Errol Phuah, the national president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, said Australia’s vaccine rollout was far behind Canada, the UK or the US.

“These are our competing countries, and they are smashing us,” he told Guardian Australia.

At the start of 2020, a pilot program brought 63 students back to Charles Darwin University, and universities said they hoped international students could return in time for semester two in 2020.

Phuah said this was looking almost impossible.

He said students were not necessarily frustrated at the slow pace of Australia’s vaccinations, but frustrated that there was no plan or a clear date to aim for.

“What has been greatly frustrating is there has been no leadership for the most part … Everyone is blaming each other, no one is taking actual responsibility,” he told Guardian Australia.

Phuah said the government should “set a clear goal” for 2022 and “stick to it” to give international students certainty, and keep them enrolled at Australian universities.

“If you look at those data on the vaccine rollout, it is very clear. Especially the US, the UK and Canada … These are our competing countries, and they are smashing us.

“Those countries are way ahead … so what is the plan there? We were talking about bringing people back in October this year. Right now, at the rate we are going, a lot of students have very little faith that we will be back in January 2022.

“The most we have for bringing international students back is a consultation paper. A lot of ideas have come up and been dropped.”

He added that Australia could look into quarantine centres outside of major cities, to lessen the risk of spread, or use another country like Singapore, or work with other countries to ensure international students were vaccinated before they come to Australia.

“I think the state and federal governments need to work together and not blame each other to find solutions to increase the quarantine volume,” he said.

“As the students currently in Australia finish up and leave Australia, and they are not replaced, we will have a lot more courses that are empty. We are on borrowed time, because the next three years, some students, 2nd or 3rd year students, they will be done. That is money that won’t be replaced.”

Discussion: Response to Consultation Paper on University Research Commercialisation

In this submission, we respond on behalf of postgraduate students to address a students’ perspective in developing a university research commercialisation funding scheme.

‘We need to do more to protect international students from wage theft’, says CAPA

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations calls for the Morrison government to crack down on wage theft in Australia. The recent protest in Adelaide’s Chinatown was a public display of everyday people standing together against heinous practices of exploiting the vulnerable.

For years CAPA has called out the exploitation of international students by employers, and this includes universities. International students come to Australia for quality education and build a better life for themselves. They have the right to earn a fair wage for their work as they complete their studies just like everyone else.

 “For many of these students, it’s their first time in Australia and are not always fully aware of their rights,” says CAPA National President Errol Phuah. “We boast about being a fair country. So they don’t expect employers to exploit them, and it happens more than you think.”

It is not acceptable to put ownest back on international students for not knowing their rights or agreeing to below minimum hourly rates. We welcomed them to this country, and we need to hold ourselves accountable if we want to be a nation known for opportunity and fairness.

“It’s also not easy for international students to speak up about this, there is an inherent fear they might lose their job, student visa or something worse.”

”Unfortunately it’s not that uncommon to hear businesses underpaying international students. They don’t complain because every penny they earn is essential for their survival. International students should have the right to a fair wage like everyone else.” says CAPA International Officer Vineet Prabhakar “If the government expects them to pay the same amount of taxes, they deserve to be paid rightfully.”

International students play a significant role in boosting Australia’s economy. So, if we want to bring international students back into Australia, we need to ensure they are protected from exploitation.

For comment:

CAPA International Officer Vineet Prabhakar

CAPA National President Errol Phuah
M: 0431 545 167

Download: Prebudget Submission 2021-2022

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly had a significant impact on the Australian Higher Education sector. Many tertiary providers in lieu embraced blended learning models, discontinued courses, and announced unprecedented staffing cuts, many tertiary providers’ unstable financial status.

These practices have allowed universities to survive into 2021, but students have been burdened with the negative repercussions. Although we are well-aware of the additional funding provided for through the Research Support Program (RSP),1 it is crucial that supplementary resources are allocated to combat the diverse issues affecting postgraduate students. Mental health and financial hardship are two issues which will continue to impact postgraduate students throughout 2021. As such, we implore the Morrison Government to consider the following recommendations to support Australia’s future professional workforce.


  1. Extend income support to all domestic postgraduate students.
  2. Provide universities additional guidance and assistance to support research students enrolled from 1st March 2020 onward by:
    • ensuring universities the additional 1 billion to RSP funds is prioritised to support COVID-19 stipend extensions for HDR students affected by the pandemic.
    • Provide ongoing additional RSP funding beyond 2021 to ensure pandemic affected students graduating in later years are also supported with stipend extensions towards the end of their degree.
  3. Continue Abstudy payments amounts in line with the fortnightly payment
  4. Provide private companies accepting interns through the NPILF with tax deductions related to the training they provide students.
  5. Ensure that students are financially compensated for their labour.
  6. Fund University initiated mental health programs and training.
  7. Ensure that universities employ culturally competent staff for their health and counselling services.
  8. Acknowledge that no one can be ‘culturally competent’ in all fields and that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not be appropriate in adopting these policies.
  9. Delegate oversight to external government bodies, such as the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency or Australian Skills Quality Authority.
  10. Acknowledge the difficulties faced by many women seeking to balance their domestic responsibilities with their careers.
  11. Prioritise support systems for women in STEM by creating scholarship programs and subsidised childcare programs on campuses.