Scholarships are hugely important for research students. For many, they mean the difference between doing a PhD or research master’s and not.
The problem with scholarships
Up until recently, the vast majority of Melbourne Uni research students could only keep a scholarship if they studied full-time throughout their degree.
This inflexible system has been in place for many years. It’s forced students to choose between their scholarship or taking the time needed to care for family, health, or taking paid work to keep their head above water, and many other challenges.
Because if you went part-time, your scholarship ceased.
Especially with the University’s changes to research timely completions in 2017 – which heavily restricted deadlines and extensions, but which GSA ensured would not retroactively punish students already part-way through their degrees – it became even more urgent that students gained the choice to go part-time if needed and still receive their scholarship.
How are these problems solved?
Changing such things is rarely easy. The University is a behemoth with hundreds of moving parts and competing priorities, so making changes requires time, patience and perseverance.
So GSA nominates students to sit on decision-making committees across the University, including graduate research committees.
Over the last year, our nominated reps Chia (Committee of Graduate Research Associate Deans), and Alaina and Abbie (Higher Degrees Research Committee) made it a priority to change the scholarship status quo.
Like the rest of GSA’s reps, they all received training to understand how the University operates and how to make grad student voices heard, and they put that training to work.
Throughout 2018, Chia, Alaina and Abbie kept the needs of part-time graduate researchers on the agenda, reminding the University that all graduate researchers need support and flexibility to complete their degrees.
Chia (left) and Alaina (right)
GSA helped students be heard, and helped the uni to hear.
All that work paid off at the start of March 2019, when the University changed their policy around scholarships to allow students to go part-time and still receive their scholarship at a pro-rata rate. For the first time, students who need to take a step back from their research to manage any of the other demands in their life will be able to do so without losing their livelihood.
Communicating student needs to the University is not always simple, which is why we try so hard to make it happen.
We’re proud of all the work our reps did, and we’re delighted that the Uni has stepped up to support our graduate researchers.
Peng Kuang is the 2018/2019 President of the University of Melbourne Graduate Student Association.