Last Monday, the universities Scholarships Committee voted to phase out the UWA Safety Net Top-Up scholarship that is given to all APA and UPA scholarship holders.
This scholarship was originally created in recognition of the financial struggles that are faced by higher degree by research students at UWA, valued at $3500 per year. This amounts to roughly $67 a week in addition to the APA or UPA stipend. $67 a week does not seem to mean much to the university however, for the HDR students receiving less than minimum wage for the amount of work they do, the difference is immeasurable. The reason behind this budget cut is to save $2.7 million over the next three years from the University Postgraduate Awards budget that is ALREADY nearly $400k in surplus, making this a savings measure only for savings sake.
The phasing out of this scholarship will begin in 2015 when a $29,000 cap will be placed on the APA/safety-net top-up combination. The Safety Net Top-Up will now only top up the APA/UPA to $29,000 rather than be a flat $3500.
The APA is indexed with inflation. CPI is expected to be 3% and the APA expected to increase to $26,154 in 2015. For 2015 the total value of the APA with a Safety Net Top-Up would have been $29,654 prior to last Monday’s meeting. With the cap imposed, all APA and UPA holding students will be $654 worse off in 2015. This amounts to a 2.2% pay cut for all HDR students on an APA or UPA. From 2015 the $654 and any further increases in the APA will be absorbed by the university for undisclosed savings.
The APA will be expected to exceed $29,000 in 2019, meaning from 2015 to 2019 all APA and UPA holding students will be facing a pay freeze. Neither a pay freeze or a pay cut of any sort would be tolerated by any university staff, but they are enforcing a 2.2% pay cut and four year pay freeze on APA and UPA holding students unquestioned. This truly is a case of the university taking from the poor to give to the budget bottom line.
The University of Western Australia consistently flaunts being a member of the Group of Eight and its ranking within the top 100 universities of the world. Neither of these accomplishments would be achievable without the hard work of the research postgraduates. There are more research postgraduates than academic research staff at UWA, resulting in a publication rate that would be impossible to achieve on the research staff alone. When the income from these publications is considered along with the income to the university for each completed higher degree by research, a cut to the take home income of students of 2.2% is unconscionable.
The good standing, ranking, income and reputation of a research intensive university relies heavily on the performance of the higher degree by research students and a pay cut of this level does nothing but show how little the university cares about students and research compared to the budget bottom line.
The university executive wants to be internationally ranked in the top 50 by 2050 but with this disregard for the welfare of its postgraduate students I expect we will be lucky to be in the top 250 by 2050.
As a representative of the UWA postgraduate research students, please feel free to email me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Winter is coming,