The University’s recent changes to research higher degree completion deadlines has been one of the biggest controversies GSA has seen in a while.
Instituting a hard deadline of 4 years for PhDs and 2 years for research Masters (equivalent full-time load), and restricting extensions beyond that only to students who have ‘research-related reasons’ for not completing, will seriously disadvantage students who experience serious health problems or life emergencies during their candidature.
Applying the changes to current students is straight-up unreasonable: research students and their supervisors have made decisions about their research based on the policies that were in place and changing them mid-way through is deeply unfair.
GSA have been fighting against these changes since they were first considered by the University, and have argued from the beginning that the University should be supporting their research students to complete on time, not punishing them.
Since the policy was approved at the Academic Board’s June meeting, we’ve been campaigning to have it amended.
At last Thursday’s Academic Board meeting we made some real progress.
What happened at the meeting?
To start with, it was the biggest Board meeting I’ve been to. With roughly 100 attendees there was standing room only in the meeting room, and many professors attended for the first time to speak out against these unfair and illogical changes.
I presented the petition that GSA coordinated, where over 1,000 research and coursework students called on the Board to amend the Graduate Research Training Policy so the changes don’t affect current students, and all students still have the option to extend their candidature on compassionate grounds, not just research-related grounds.
After I spoke, many professors—including the Provost and former Academic Board president—spoke against the changes. They criticised them for being poorly considered and discriminatory toward already vulnerable research students, and argued that they would have a negative impact on research at the University.
After considerable debate, the Board directed the Research Higher Degrees Committee to prepare a formal response to our petition and the arguments from professors against the changes, which we’ll get at next month’s Academic Board meeting.
What does this mean?
This meeting clearly showed that the vast majority of academic staff, as well as students, are opposed to the changes, and that’s putting real pressure on the University.
For now the new deadlines still stand, but we’re increasingly confident that we’ll see changes to make things better for research students.
At next month’s Academic Board meeting, a number of senior professors will be moving a motion for the policies to be amended so they are fair and reasonable, while still supporting the University’s aim of increasing timely completions.
What can you do?
The progress at Academic Board is really encouraging, but we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.
If you’re a current research student who is going to be disadvantaged by these changes, join our group complaint to the Academic Registrar. It’s another way that we can show the University how damaging the new system will be, and call on them to make changes to support research students.
Also, keep talking to your professors and asking for their support. Tell them about the great outcome we had at this month’s Board meeting, and encourage them to go along to the next one.
Every staff member and student at the University can see details of the Academic Board by going to the Meeting Information Manager, so they can check there for the time and location of the meeting.
This has been a really stressful and worrying time for a lot of research students, but it’s also shown me just how much we can achieve when we all work together.
All of you who signed the petition, talked to your academic staff and fellow research students, set up information sessions in your departments and got in touch with GSA have made a real difference, and shown the University that they can’t get away with making policy that will disadvantage students.
The fight’s not over, but together we can win it.
Georgia Daly is 2017/2018 President of the University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association.