Updated response from Professor Zobel on graduate research issues

27 July 2020

 GSA welcomes a long-awaited communication to graduate researchers

Below, you can read the announcement from Pro Vice-Chancellor Justin Zobel, dated today (Monday 27 July 2020).

The long-welcome update brings some outright good news for researchers. However, GSA has concerns that many researchers will still have uncertainty about extension policy, stipends, and appeals.

This update strikes us as a promising preliminary announcement, with more to come. It is a good beginning for supporting researchers through this immediate difficult period in time, but GSA will continue to advocate for more complete resourcing and communication for all graduate researchers, many of whom are still vulnerable and under-supported.

Click to read: Update from Pro Vice-Chancellor Justin Zobel

New support measures for graduate researchers 

It is already clear that this year is unlike any in our history. The unprecedented disruption has had profound impact on all of us in so many ways. As graduate researchers you have adapted and accommodated in ways that are truly impressive and inspirational, while being confronted by challenges and obstacles that could not have been anticipated.

The University of Melbourne is committed to helping each of you progress. I appreciate the level of uncertainty you are experiencing, and we have been working on ways to support you on an ongoing basis. However, as we find ourselves in financially challenging times, a complete policy response will only be possible when we understand the full impact of the pandemic across our diverse graduate researcher community. The University must consider the needs of those who are approaching their completion date now as well as those of the graduate researcher community in 2021 and beyond.

At present, we are putting in place new support measures for graduate researchers approaching the end of their candidature and stipend.

Stipend extension scheme

We are providing stipend extensions for doctoral candidates whose research progress has been directly impacted by COVID-19 disruptions. In the first instance, over the next few months we are focused on urgent cases. If you are on a stipend scholarship that expires between 1 June and 30 November this year, you are eligible for consideration for a 2020 stipend extension of:

  • Up to 12 weeks if you have lost significant productivity due to COVID-19.
  • Up to 26 weeks for those of you whose project has been profoundly affected by COVID-19 to the extent that a major restructure or re-conception of the project is required in order to complete your research degree.

This stipend extension scheme will be provided at the University standard scholarship rate ($31,200 pa pro rata) and any COVID-19 paid leave received will be deducted from the maximum support available. It will be available to doctoral candidates up to 4 years of candidature. An application for stipend extension will be required, and a University committee will oversee the process to ensure equity across faculties. Applications will need to set out a clear case of significant disruption.

For candidates whose stipend expires between 1 June and 30 November this year, applications will open from 10 August. We will give priority to applications from those whose stipends are nearest to finishing. For other candidates, we will make a further announcement by the end of September.

Some graduate researchers have sought higher levels of support. However, the University needs to ensure that it has the capacity to continue to support graduate researchers, current and new, as the crisis continues. We must live within our means and the extensions we do provide must follow the above criteria.

Masters candidates

As masters candidates on stipend receive this for the standard University maximum course duration of 2 years, stipend extensions will not be available via this scheme for masters candidates.

Candidature extensions and timely submission

The President of Academic Board has approved a temporary increase of six months to the maximum course duration (that is, thesis submission deadline). This provides 4.5 years for doctoral candidates, and 2.5 years for masters candidates, who had commenced their course prior to 1 March 2020 and had not reached 4 years (doctoral candidates) or 2 years (masters candidates) at that point.

We introduced a Candidature Management Research Impact Record form for you to progressively record delays you may be experiencing. To take advantage of this change in course duration, we encourage you to continue to document the nature and extent of the disruptions to your research.

COVID-19 disruptions should be discussed and noted in every progress review. Progress review forms will be updated so that time lost to COVID-19 can be recorded at each milestone. At the 3.5-year review for doctoral candidates, and 1.5-year review for masters candidates, your expected work submission date will be adjusted with the net additional recognised time lost.

As this most recent outbreak demonstrates, COVID-19 may continue to impact on research projects. It is important that research plans are reviewed regularly and adapted as needed. If you expect that your thesis submission could be delayed by 6 months or more, you and your Advisory Committee must discuss how your research plan can be restructured.

If you urgently need to reconsider your research plan, you can call for an Advisory Committee meeting at any time.

Further advice for you, supervisors and Advisory Committee chairs will be available soon on the Graduate Research Hub. We are also continuing to provide:

  • Automatic initial 6 months extensions for doctoral candidates approaching 3 years and masters at 1.5 years, for those that are making satisfactory academic progress.
  • COVID-19 leave for those who cannot progress their research at all. Up to 12 weeks of this leave is paid for those on stipends. Taking COVID-19 leave will not affect your entitlement to other types of leave.

Visa support

We are pleased that the Federal Government has announced that students who need a further visa to complete their course will not have to pay the visa renewal fee. The Government will also recognise time spent studying offshore towards eligibility for the Temporary Graduate (485) visa. Further information is available here.

To conclude, as we again find ourselves under stage 3 restrictions, I would like to remind you of the health and wellbeing services available to you. Your wellbeing is of critical importance to us, and we will continue to work on developing policy measures that support the graduate research community both now and beyond 2020.

Sincerely

Justin Zobel
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate and International Research)

 


Background: Graduate researcher issues

GSA’s position paper, Covid-19 Support for Graduate Researchers, was sent to Professor Justin Zobel (Pro Vice-Chancellor, Graduate & International Research) on Thursday 9 July, and a brief follow-up meeting was held with him on Tuesday 14 July 2020.

The paper highlights the impacts of COVID-19 on graduate researchers, and makes recommendations around extension policy, milestone extensions, financial assistance, procedures, and how recent supervisor survey results should be viewed.

Previous post: UniMelb’s responses to graduate researcher concerns

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