COVID-19 advocacy summary
Last updated 15 April 2021
Below you can find a summary of GSA’s recommendations to the University, our policies relating to COVID-19, and our findings from student feedback.
Our advocacy work is ongoing, and we will continue to report back with updates as they come. Your feedback is still crucial.
Covid-19 Extensions for Graduate Researchers Report
GSA surveyed graduate researchers about their experience with the University’s Covid-19 extension policies. In their responses, students say that they have lost significant time researching due to the impacts of Covid-19 and the restrictions. Some of these students feel certain that, despite being adversely impacted, they will not be eligible for support from the University. The report offers recommendations to the University to help graduate researchers get the support they need to complete their research degrees successfully.
GSA student issues digest – 11 – 27 May
GSA compiled a report of Covid-19 related issues experienced by students during this period. New issues included protracted wait times for Emergency Support Fund applications and challenges in completing mandatory placements. Matters pending included graduate researcher extension policy and end of semester assessments.
Placement survey report
GSA conducted a survey on how Covid-19 was impacting graduate students’ placements. We found that students were frustrated by poor communication and last-minute changes, concerned about missing out on learning opportunities, and in some cases had difficulties participating in online placements.
Summary of recommendations
- That the University provides automatic three-month (EFT) extensions to all graduate researchers in recognition of the impact on students’ emotional health and disruptions to data collection, with further extensions available on application.
- That the University provides funding for graduate researchers experiencing financial hardship. This should include funding for setting up a study space or maintaining an internet connection, recognising that these costs are shifted from the University to the student in the move to study off campus.
- That eligibility criteria for Covid-19 leave for graduate researchers be inclusive of all Covid-19 related impacts (e.g. mental health difficulties, data collection postponement) and that these criteria be clearly communicated on the University website.
- That the University implements an opt-in Pass/Fail policy for coursework students, due to the impact on grades of students’ anxiety and the move to online learning.
- That the University provides hardship fee discounts for full-fee paying coursework students who require a remission to remain enrolled.
Update on GSA 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.
Graduate researchers between 2.75-3.0 EFTSL of their enrolment have had automatic six-month extensions applied. Graduate researchers may apply for up to 12 weeks of paid Covid-19 related leave, which is available only to those who are directly impacted (e.g. have caught Covid-19 or have increased caring responsibilities). Faculty-based communications indicate that the leave cannot be used for common issues impacting many graduate researchers, such as lab closures, interruptions to data collection, and heightened anxiety.
It is recommended that the university adds to their existing measures by giving automatic three-month extensions for all graduate researchers.
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.
The University has implemented an Emergency Support Fund which can be used for study at home costs for coursework students. This is a welcome development which we have referred many students to apply for.
It is understood that a similar scheme is currently in planning for graduate researchers. It is recommended that the university structures this similarly to the fund for coursework students.
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.
The university has not adopted this policy or similar. As course quality remains a concern, it is recommended that the university implements an opt-in Pass/Fail system or another measure to mitigate the impact on student grades.
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.
The university has not implemented this policy. It is recommended that it still be considered, or integrated into the Emergency Support Fund program.
Update on issues being monitored
1. Student parents who now have increasing caring responsibilities may require additional support and flexibility on deadlines.
In response to GSA’s concerns about childcare fees for students with children enrolled in University childcare, which they are no longer using, the University has agreed to waive fees for holding the place. Covid-19 leave for graduate researchers may be used for increasing caring responsibilities. Further support is needed for coursework students with increased caring responsibilities, such as leniency on assignment dates and an opt-in Pass/Fail system.
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.
Some schools are working to deliver online equivalents where possible. However, we are concerned for students who have compulsory placement hours in order to meet course requirements. Further consultation and policy development is required on this matter.
3. Students may also require support as a result of emotional distress, financial hardship, and increased incidences of domestic violence.
Many students contacting GSA have reported heightened anxiety and loneliness, which is impacting on their studies. Much of this anxiety stems from a lack of support, financial stress, and needing clarity from the university on available support. It is suggested that leave provisions for graduate researchers be targeted as a matter of priority to address this emerging issue.
Summary of student issues received by GSA
Graduate coursework issues – 30 March to 3 April
- Desire for fee reduction due to drop in course quality (x2)
- Unable to focus on study
- Needing to change data collection method for thesis component
- No internet or desk space at home
- MTeach student losing placement opportunity and therefore unable to complete assessments (x3)
- MTeach student wants the ability to organise their own placement to try to graduate on time
- International student feeling they are not getting what they paid for
- Concerns about grades suffering due to poor quality and communication for subjects moved online
- Desire for lower SSAF
- Concerns about quality of online learning (x2) and support for our Pass/Fail policy
- Difficulty accessing online library resources
- Old lectures being uploaded but inappropriate because the lectures are interactive and you can’t hear the audience input
- Financial distress and not eligible for any assistance
- Subjects being cancelled due to low enrolments
- Mental health issues, feels lonely and like nobody cares
Graduate researcher issues – 30 March to 3 April
Access to resources
- Six graduate researchers have reported lacking suitable study at home space – e.g. no internet, too small to fit a desk, no computer chair
- Loss of research community
- Can’t access physical library books required for research which are not available online (x2)
- No access to source materials necessary for research
- Anxious about university’s plans for PhD marking if examiners are not available
Leave and part-time study
- Graduate researchers being told to use sick leave or annual leave to maintain their stipend if they cannot continue with their research due to lab closures – they feel this is unfair
- Healthcare workers having extra work – desire for special leave for healthcare workers
- Caring responsibilities requiring leave of absence from research
- Six students requesting guaranteed six month candidature and scholarship extension
- Desire to go part-time at a fraction other than 0.5
- Fieldwork cancelled indefinitely – unsure if/when they will be able to complete
- Student’s PhD fieldwork overseas cannot be completed, but they cannot change research design as their stipend is from ARC project funding
- Newly commenced graduate researcher unable to do meaningful work without lab access
- 3rd year PhD student cannot access covid-19 leave, ran out of sick leave, milestone coming up and likely to quit
- Covid-19 leave provisions too narrow
- Data collection cannot proceed but not eligible for covid-19 leave
- Grad researchers less able to access supervisors due to supervisors’ increased parenting responsibilities
Communication from university
- Final year PhD student seeking reassurance that they will be able to get candidature and scholarship extension
- Unclear communications from university (x2)
- Graduate researchers upset with language of “continuing as normal” and “business as usual” due to the distress they are experiencing (x2)
- Unsure if eligible for covid-19 leave (x3)
- PhD student has lab closed, is told to be writing up but has already done all the writing up they can do so far – wants assurances on extension
- Recently submitted international PhD student (under examination) financial distress and stuck in Australia
- Desire for financial support for international students
- Student with mental health issues is unable to access phone counselling as no private space at home to talk
- Anxiety issues and unable to access counselling
- Unable to concentrate due to heightened anxiety (x4)
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, which proposes stronger representation for graduate students to achieve change.