The Australian Council of Graduate Research recognises that higher degree by research students are being as severely affected by the impacts of the Corona Virus as are all other workers and students in Australia. Research has been delayed or interrupted, casual employment necessary for subsistence has evaporated and health issues, social isolation and lock outs are impacting on the ability to continue enrolments.
It is critical that these future researchers are supported through this crisis so that they can continue through to successful completion of their studies, or pause and resume at a later date, in order to fulfil their research training and make significant contributions to Australia’s future. ACGR strongly recommends that measures are put in place to ensure HDR students are entitled to all appropriate current economic support and stimulus packages and that no individual is disadvantaged as a consequence of their status as a HDR candidate.
Specifically we request that:
- The Research Training Program be recognised on the same footing as other student support packages (eg AUStudy and ABStudy) and all recipients of RTP stipend and/or RTP tuition fee scholarships who remain enrolled during this time be entitled to the equivalent of the $550 per fortnight Covid Supplement.
- RTP Recipients who must intermit their candidature due to the impacts of the virus and thus suspend their scholarships are recognised as unemployed and experiencing financial hardship. These students are automatically entitled to payments from the Special Benefit scheme which should be paid at the same rate as the current base RTP, initially for 2 research quarters (with review) . If students do not return to study when circumstances revert to allow their research to resume, they should then default to the Jobseekers scheme.
- Self-funded students and those on other forms of scholarship support whose other employment/income is significantly impacted should be eligible for the support programs currently available to all citizens – ie Jobseeker allowance, COVID supplement and all Special Benefits regardless of whether they are full or part time, enrolled or need to intermit.
- Wherever possible, candidates should remain as enrolled and continuing, even with limited capacity, their research. Disruptions to candidature due to illness, carers responsibilities or reduced research infrastructure etc should be thoroughly documented and considered if a request for extension of candidature is required later.
- DESE consider making immediate changes to the RTP Guidelines so that extensions to the maximum periods of support can be allowed due to the Covid Virus and additional periods of leave to cover COVID illness and carers responsibilities can be granted.
Universities will provide full details of these delays to the DESE and a bid for additional or extended RTP funding arrangements may be put to DESE when the extent of the situation is well documented. This may include flexibility on carry forward of funding to future years and /or small breaches of the 10% cap on international spend.
ACGR recognises that international students may also not be able to continue their research and/or may not be able to continue it on campus, and thus might be at risk of breaching their visa requirements.
We therefore asked that there is exceptional circumstances agreement that during the next two research quarters:
- international students can remain enrolled where possible but work off campus as all other students are required to do – without jeopardising their ESOS compliance, this includes working offshore if they need to return home to care for family etc a
- international students can interrupt if necessary without having to leave the country and visa extensions and another period of OHSC will be permitted
- in the event that a candidate who has submitted their thesis and would be normally be required to return home (ie Aus Aid or visa expiration ) – we ask that this requirement be delayed to accommodate outbound flight availability or for longer periods if this would cause them and their families to be at greater risk of infection. In either situation visa extensions would be required
Endorsed by the ACGR Executive 26 March 2020