Thirty students representing 25 postgraduate organisations met at the Council of Postgraduate Association (CAPA) Special Council Meeting to discuss issues faced by postgraduate students in a corporatised university setting.
CAPA is the peak, not-for-profit body that represents 320,000-plus postgraduate students, through its 33 postgraduate affiliates and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA).
The two-day meeting was addressed by Jeannie Rea, national president of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) who reported the federal budget was holding onto fee deregulation through its sneaky policy of universities being able to charge anything they desired for “flagship courses”.
“The Turnbull government did not step away from their $100,000 degree policy,” she said. “The flagship courses were proposed in a report by Julia Gillard and are a gateway to fee deregulation and university managements charging whatever they want. Instead, the union is campaigning for well-funded public education across the system.
“We are the only union in the country that has fought for enterprise bargaining agreements that include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment targets — it would be good to have other unions emulate this.
“Our last round of bargaining focused on creating 1000 ongoing positions in universities for those who have been academic casuals, as one in two people in universities now have insecure jobs. There are 80% of people employed in research who are now only are on short term fixed positions, employed from one project to the next.
“It is scandalous because funding is allocated for six years so universities know they have the money. It is also terrible when some vice-chancellors are making in one week what a casual academic makes in a year”.
Council of International Students Australia (CISA) representative Maximilian Obiakor, based at University New England, said: “The government just launched a report International Education Strategy which aims to increase international students from 500,000 to 1 million by 2020-2025. The rhetoric was very appealing but the courses are extremely expensive and they haven't granted concession cards in NSW and Victoria for postgraduate international students.”
Sharlene Leroy-Dyer, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA) liaison officer and Socialist Alliance candidate for the NSW Senate said: “Universities are whitestreaming. They are shutting Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander services and centres and reducing funding to Indigenous specific curriculum. Abbott introduced the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which means universities have to bid for funding for their Indigenous programs. One university's program had their funding halved.”
National President of CAPA Jim Smith said Melbourne University postgraduate students face “massive debt”.
“We already have $100,000 degrees. Deregulation of postgraduate fees already exists as there is no Commonwealth supported places for some courses. A lot of courses are not approved for Centrelink purposes so students face lots of debt and insufficient income support.”
Smith said university administrations don't treat postgraduate students very well. “For example Melbourne University trialled using Cadmus, which was purported to be an anti-plagiarism program, without letting students know. It monitored every key stroke that students made and operated with the principle of punishing people. It is not in line with educative response, and if universities teach people referencing skills they won't plagiarise. They were spying on students. Student organisations acted and demanded an end to the trial and the university agreed.
“There is a Federal election coming up and CAPA is looking to inform students on each political party's policy regarding higher education. While we don't think any parties are perfect on this issue, but we want to inform students about what each party's stance is and create a scorecard. So we are looking to share the experiences of postgraduate students on social media and print posters for all our affiliates with our election scorecard findings.
“CAPA stands for free education, so we want to make arguments about why education is a public good and call on political parties to commit to increased funding.”
CAPA general secretary and president of Monash University Postgraduate Association Peter Hurley said: “We want to win a higher rate for Australian Postgraduate Awards [scholarship for research students] because universities get a good deal out of students. We produce a lot of research output for the universities, who get a lot of grants for research but students are paid poorly.
“Monash University is really pitching the corporatisation of education. It tries to link everything to employability, not to learning and research. At Monash there is a compulsory training pitch in an elevator — you come across a venture capitalist in a lift and have to convince them of your research's 'worth'. 'Well this does not benefit society. Education should not have to justify itself to some kind of market paradigm. We need to value learning for learning's sake.”
The CAPA Conference occurred on National Sorry Day and, after being informed by Leroy-Dyer about the high rates of Aboriginal children being stolen still, the conference held a photoshoot calling on state and federal governments to “Stop Stealing Aboriginal Children”.' CAPA also endorsed Moreland's No to Racism rally, national Palm Sunday Welcome Refugee rallies, national Rainbow Campus NOW campaigns, and Marriage Equality Now rallies.