Overview – a degree is not optional
Educational attainment increasingly means the difference between being employed and being unemployed. As a result, more people than ever are enrolling in higher education, and even more will do so in the future. Students frequently work while studying in order to make ends meet, and are employed within the retail, hospitality, and fast-food sectors. Shifts in penalty rates have a significant financial impact on these students, as well as on their ability to succeed at university.
Changes to penalty rates are an issue for university students across Australia, including those undertaking postgraduate level qualifications such as Coursework Masters or Doctoral (PhD) degrees. The challenges facing these students are many, however, one key area requiring closer consideration is the relationship between postgraduates’ income support, work, and studies.
Work and study can be immensely stressful. While attending university can be a challenging and rewarding pursuit, short deadlines and long hours are common. Students that need to work while they study face additional challenges and stresses: financial, mental, and emotional.
This report presents information on penalty rates and their importance to postgraduate students. We make three key arguments:
In order to support these arguments, we report on an exploratory study undertaken by CAPA. We collect a series of student case studies, focusing particularly on postgraduate beneficiaries of penalty rates who require them in order to continue their studies.
23 Februrary 2017 – The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) is dumbfounded at the decision to reduce the income of Australia’s students by cutting penalty rates. This cut comes at a time when wages in Australia are already stagnant and is another blow to students who are already under financial siege.
Postgraduate students, the very students who become our future doctors, leaders, and researchers, are already often denied income support. Now, even their very ability to earn the income needed to survive is under threat. Research into student finances have already shown that 25% of postgraduate students go without the most basic necessities on a regular basis. Students who cannot financially sustain themselves results in students studying part-time or not undertaking research at all.
Does Australia, in the midst of a so called “innovation agenda”, really want to miss out on the next medical research breakthrough or future business leader because a student had to spend an extra day in a low-paid job and was unable to study? And why is “fair work” focusing on cutting penalty rates when there are already a number of businesses underpaying their casual workforce?
Students are already turning to alternative income such as signing up for “sugar daddies” because they cannot survive on low paid employment. What effect do we think slashing predominantly student incomes will have?
“The Federal Government makes grandiose claims about wanting Australia to become world leaders in innovation seems but hell bent on ensuring that our top students are hobbled at every turn,” said CAPA National President Peter Derbyshire.
“When students are undertaking 30-40hrs of study a week and have to work on top it is essential that they are still able to make ends meet. Cutting penalty rates will lead to increased student poverty, decreases in student mental health and impact on the research capacity of Australia”
Australian students cannot be the innovators they need to be if they are locked out of postgraduate education or if our brightest minds are unable to afford the basic necessities.
For comment: Peter Derbyshire CAPA National President M: 0435 047 817 firstname.lastname@example.org
 Universities Australia, (2013) “Australian University Student Finances In 2012” Retrieved from https://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/news/commissioned-studies/Australian-University-Student-Finances-in-2012#.WICe11yo3Ms