The preprint The Quiet Crisis of PhDs and COVID-19: Reaching the financial tipping point is now available and it outlines the many negative impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Phd students at Sydney University. SUPRA sponsored the survey and final report and continues to partner with the authors and the HDR Liaison Committee to campaign for improvements for University of Sydney HDR students.
The figure below, taken from the preprint, shows that 75% of respondents said they expected to experience financial hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The research has attracted media attention, including:
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Recently SUPRA and the SRC wrote to the NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Dr Geoff Lee, with recommendations that we think will assist the most international students impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, including easing eligibility for crisis accommodation support. The NSW Government has now announced changes that mean more students who are in genuine need can receive crisis accommodation. Read the reply we received from the minister that details the changes.
The key changes are:
Read our letter to the minister.
Many students experienced disruption to their learning when their units went online in March. In particular, international students who were prevented from returning to Sydney and could only enrol in a limited range of units of study were disadvantaged. In recognition of this disadvantage, the university offered those students a rebate of up to $1500 per 6 credit point unit, with a cap of $4000 for each student.
However many students who were not eligible for this rebate received notices from the university suggesting that they were eligible – as a result, many students believed that they were owed a rebate. SUPRA has raised this matter with the university and requested that they increase transparency around the rebate process. In response the university has accepted that their communication was unclear and agreed to publish the list of all eligible units of study with a clear explanation on the uni website. Unfortunately, the university has advised that no Business School units are eligible for the rebate, and they will be emailing students to inform them about this.
While SUPRA welcomes the proposed decreased fees for STEM subjects and an extra 39,000 university places by 2023, we call on the government to provide the additional funding rather than slugging arts and humanities students. If passed in the parliament this means subjects in communications, behavioural science, society and culture will rise to $14,500, over $3000 more than Medicine subjects and the top rate for any subject.
SUPRA President Minran Liu, an international PhD in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences said, ‘We understand the government wanting more graduates in Health, Education and Engineering areas but we don’t believe charging humanities subjects important to developing our critical thinking, policy skills, or understanding of the history of humanity, is the best way of achieving this goal. We think this policy is unfair and will in fact turn students away from these important areas.’
According to several news outlets, including The Guardian, the announced proposal will actually reduce government contributions from 58% to 48% while increasing student contributions from 42% to 52%. At a time when young people are bearing the main cost for the pandemic through job loss and opportunities, and reduced hours, this latest attack on young people is not justified. Australia needs to maintain an internationally competitive economy and this proposal will deprive us of future generations of educated and critically minded people.
SUPRA will work with other student organisations and any politicians who oppose this unfair proposal, to ensure it is defeated.
The HDR Liaison Committee and SUPRA have reached out to the Vice-Chancellor regarding support for HDR students. We are grateful for the University’s ongoing support, however, we continue to hear from both students and staff of the need for further support. We urge the University to immediately open applications of a further research period (RP), making a total COVID related candidature extension of two RPs. We also request the University to provide associated financial support to students who further extend their candidature.
Read our letter to Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence
On 15 May 2020, our President wrote to the University to enquire about SSAF fees: ‘I am writing to you to represent complaints by postgraduate students who have been impacted by the shutdown of our campuses and reduction or cancellation of student recreational services. Students reasonably want to ask for a partial refund of their SSAF fee since they have not been able to access USU and SUSF services and activities for this current semester. I am also keen to understand the university’s intention for setting semester two SSAF fees if we are planning for another semester of online classes and limited activity on campus. I look forward to your response.’
We received a response on 27 May 2020: read the response from the University.
On 22 May 2020, SUPRA and SRC wrote to the NSW Premier seeking an urgent meeting to address hardships faced by international students during the current crisis. Read our joint letter to the Premier.
On 4 June 2020 the SUPRA and SRC Presidents met with senior advisors to the NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education. Afterwards, on 15 June 2020, we sent a follow up letter to the Minister regarding crisis support for international students.
We at SUPRA fully support the campaign from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) to support all tertiary education staff, particularly with a focus on those with the most precarious employment in our sector.
Unions and other groups are calling on the government to make sure everyone is supported during this crisis. Key demands are:
You can sign a petition here
A coalition of Sydney organisers committed to defending vulnerable people in increasingly precarious housing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their commitment is for safe and secure housing for all.
In late February of 2020, and again in April, SUPRA wrote to the Vice Chancellor to encourage the University to offer financial support for students affected by the travel ban and COVID-19, as other universities were doing.
24 February – Letter to VC as a Word document
24 February – Letter to VC as a PDF
28 February – Letter to VC as a Word document
28 February – Letter 2 VC as a PDF
15 April – Letter to VC as Word document
15 April – Letter to VC as PDF