COVID-19 advocacy strategy

GSA Representation Team

30 March 2020

Main policy platform

Pending further consultation with graduate students, GSA is advocating for four key policies:

  1. Additional three-month candidature extensions for all graduate researchers, including international students, over and above current extension provisions.
    Graduate researchers who were due to complete in 2020 should be given automatic three-month extensions as a matter of priority. This should include scholarship extensions where applicable. These extensions should be easy to apply for and should be clearly and widely communicated to graduate researchers and supervisors.
  2. A hardship grant program for students to purchase equipment or services that enable them to study at home.
    We anticipate that typical needs would be a computer, computer peripherals, and an internet connection. This would be for students who usually study on-campus in libraries or offices, and who do not have access to sufficient resources at home. GSA will provide additional support through a small grants scheme.
  3. An opt-in system for coursework students to have their semester 1, 2020 subjects not count towards their GPA.
    Students who do not opt for this system would still receive semester grades on their transcript as normal.
  4. Hardship fee remissions for full-fee paying students.
    A fee reduction program should be established for international students and full-fee domestic coursework students who can demonstrate significant financial hardship resulting in an inability to pay their 2020 fees.
Study-at-home support grants program

GSA will create a fund of $5,000 for students to receive grants of up to $150 each, to purchase study-at-home materials such as internet access, computer peripherals, or a study desk/chair. Recipients must be referred through Campus Community. The fund is currently being established with further details to be confirmed.

Issues being monitored

We will continue to advocate to the university to act on the following issues:

  1. Student parents who now have increasing caring responsibilities may require additional support and flexibility on deadlines.
  2. Students with cancelled placements who were on track to complete their degree in 2020 may be unable to complete on their planned timeline. We will continue to work with the university to seek solutions on this.
  3. Students may also require support as a result of emotional distress, financial hardship, and increased incidences of domestic violence.

GSA will review emerging issues weekly to determine how we can best advocate for the graduate students.

We will also continue to work with our national representative body on campaigning for social security eligibility for graduate and international students.

Overview of impacts on students

Issues faced by graduate researchers

Graduate researchers are typically working from home at this time. Planned data collection, where this requires access to equipment, people, or travel, are postponed or cancelled, along with conferences. At the same time, there is a loss of community of graduate researchers as social opportunities are diminished.

Graduate researchers may also be struggling with changed home circumstances (e.g. children pulled out of school, loss of job). Lack of access to supervisors may also be an issue where the supervisors themselves are struggling.

Additionally, some graduate students may lack equipment for a home workstation. All of these challenges would threaten the research progression of these students. Special paid leave would therefore mitigate the longer term impacts on graduate researchers.

The University has communicated that they are looking into scholarship and candidature extensions for all students who are significantly affected.

Issues faced by graduate coursework students

Coursework students have been impacted by their subjects moving online. Online study is less feasible for practical based disciplines, such as education or physiotherapy in which placements have been cancelled. Some students have increased caring responsibilities or an unsuitable home office environment which impacts on their ability to study. There are concerns around course progression, quality of online learning, and impact on grades.

One way to mitigate these concerns would be to have an opt-in system for semester one grades to not be factored in to a student’s GPA. This may also encourage students to remain enrolled during this semester.

General concerns

The emotional, physical and social impacts of COVID-19 are deleterious to students’ wellbeing. Students may be experiencing financial hardship or caring responsibilities which make their studies even more challenging. Access to support services is therefore crucial during this time.

Log of issues reported to GSA by students as of 30 March:

  • Education students – placements are cancelled from the 23rd of March – concerns about timely graduations
  • Arts students – tutorials under 25 students to be moved online from 23rd of March; concerns around preparation of tutors
  • Physiotherapy students – placements cancelled
  • Unhappiness about paying to hold place at university childcare
  • Delay in supervisor response time
  • Difficulty of looking after children while unable to take leave from PhD due to financial impact
  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Desire for lower fees now that course is online
  • Multiple queries about what GSA is doing to advocate for students
  • Loss of employment – university casuals and jobs external to university
  • Financial difficulties
  • Emotional impact of financial difficulties
  • International students wishing to return to home country now that study is online
  • Graduate researchers without scholarship also experiencing job loss and financial distress

Send us your feedback

We hope to receive more student feedback – not only on our COVID-19 representative actions, but on our proposals for a strengthened Constitution in 2020.

Tell us how COVID-19 is affecting you

Read GSA’s proposal for a strengthened Constitution