SUPRA understands that the NTEU and the University are currently negotiating a proposal for HDR Fellowships, on behalf of HDR students at the University of Sydney. While SUPRA does not have access to the specific clauses of the fellowships, we understand that fellowships would be granted for 3-year periods, with students expected to teach a specific number of tutorials per semester. SUPRA is, in principle, supportive of 3-year fellowships that provide job security and teaching experience for HDR students.

However, we are concerned that HDR students will be left worse off in these fellowships than in the current system of casual contracts. We want to see the NTEU, on behalf of HDR students, negotiating for appropriate pay for hours worked, no restrictions on additional contracts with USyd, and a commitment to continued support of equitable and diverse stipends.

1. Appropriate pay for hours worked

The proposed PhD fellowships currently under negotiation need to ensure that HDR students are paid appropriately for hours worked. HDR students at the University of Sydney have a history of being underpaid for their work, and these fellowships could continue this concerning state.

We strongly advise PhD fellowships to include a reasonable amount of required tutorials. This may have some variation per faculty, but at a rate of 0.2 FTE (that is one paid day per week) there should be a maximum requirement of three one-hour tutorials per week during semesters.

This provides sufficient remuneration for included tutorial preparation, the tutorial itself, marking and the provision of substantive feedback, communication with students outside of class hours and other administrative tasks. All staff should be paid for all hours worked, and this applies to PhD students.

We recommend fellowships require no more than three one-hour tutorials per week per semester.

2. No restrictions on additional work at the University

SUPRA understands that there is a proposed limit on fellows accepting additional contracts at the University. Specifically, that any HDR student on a fellowship would be unable to take up additional work tied to the University.

SUPRA does not believe there should be any restrictions on how an HDR student balances their paid work hours with their HDR studies. As the proposed PhD fellowships do not provide living wages, HDR students not in receipt of other stipends will need to access additional employment.

PhD fellows should be able to work additional paid hours at the University, in discussion with their supervisors and considering the needs of their HDR progression.

We recommend that any limitations on fellows to take up non-fellowship paid contracts with the University of Sydney be removed from the conditions of the fellowship.

3. Ensure fellowships are not used to replace or supplant PhD stipends

SUPRA has concerns that the fellowships, as they stand, will be used to replace more substantive HDR stipends and contracts. This is concerning because stipends are essential economic support for PhD candidates to engage in higher degree research. Further, fellowships alone are significantly below the poverty line and should not be a sole source of income.

We recommend the University commit to retaining a range of diverse and equitable stipend options to support PhD students. 


Weihong Liang
SUPRA President