Campaigns

If you experience something you think is unfair and you’re not sure what to do, you can raise your issue anonymously with the MGA team. We’re here to campaign for your graduate student rights!

We hear your outrage!

Campaign Update: Survey report and more bad news from the University

(posted Wednesday, 13 November 2019)

Let’s start with the positive news, by sending out a huge thank-you to the 804 graduate students who took the time to fill out our SSAF survey and help us understand the views and needs of the wider graduate community. (If you haven’t heard about this issue, scroll down to read more)

And a big shout-out to all the academic and professional staff who sent their (sometimes secret ssssh!) support in recognition of the role the MGA plays in supporting the graduate students.

The survey made it clear that graduate students are appalled by the unwarranted demands of the undergraduate student association on Clayton, but even more outraged with the university‘s decision to support those unreasonable demands.  As one graduate student summed up, “ It would be nice to be respected and appreciated as a post-grad student by my own institution.”

Read the full SSAF survey 2019 here.   The report has been sent to all senior managers, and followed up with individual meetings where the MGA President will continue to lobby the central decision-makers on your behalf.

So where were we?  Ah yes, the bad news…as we reported to you last month, the MGA had refused to pay the 15% levy to the Clayton undergraduate student association (MSA) for 2019.   The university subsequently paid MSA the 15% for 2019 ($204,192) from graduate SSAF funds that were due to be paid to MGA in early 2020.  They also stated that 15% of the MGA Clayton funds for 2020 would additionally be directly transferred from the university to the undergraduates in 2020.

It seems that Monash University senior management are no longer supporting self-determination for graduate students!   We remain hopeful that we will see the return of transparency, equity, honesty and good old common sense before this campaign is escalated.

Stay tuned for the next step in our campaign.

The Clayton Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Issue

 

The MGA and the Monash Student Association (MSA) which is the Clayton campus undergraduate student association, have come to a deadlock in negotiations regarding the transfer of graduate SSAF funding to MSA, for provision of generic student services.

The MSA figures indicate that approximately 5% of graduate students use MSA clubs and societies. However, the MSA are requesting 15% of graduate student SSAF funding.

The MSA has not been negotiating in good faith, including refusing to meet, providing false and misleading figures and changing the level of funding requested.

Although the MGA functions as an independent body to the university, the DVC (Education) has made a decision that the MGA must transfer 15% of their graduate student funding to the MSA, which in 2019 will be $203,000.

The MGA is refusing to give the MSA this funding. We believe that graduate student experiences are uniquely different from undergraduates, and that graduate students want and deserve the tailored services that the MGA is specifically set up to provide.

In September 2019, the MGA conducted a month-long survey to find out how graduate students feel about this decision. The MGA offered five $100 Coles/Myer gift cards to encourage participation and received 804 responses from graduate students. The draw took place on Monday, 28 October 2019 and the lucky winners are listed below:

  • Briohny Kennedy
  • Victor Cruz de Faria
  • Daria Impiombato
  • Saanchi Jain
  • Prithviraj Palavalli Srinivasa

Interested in the details of this little saga?  Read on, because truth is stranger than fiction…

The MSA runs some generic activities which graduate students are allowed to access, eg Clubs and Societies, free food events, student theatre and lunchtime bands.  Some of these events are free and some are subsidised by SSAF funds.

In 2018 the MGA gave the MSA $70,000 to compensate them graduate student access to their free generic events.  In 2019 the MGA offered $60,000 and later $70,000 but these offers were both refused.

For over 20 years, the undergraduates have received large amounts of graduate student funding without the undergraduate student associations having to account for those funds.  At our last AGM, graduate students complained that they did not use MSA services and directed the MGA to reduce the amount of graduate student funding being transferred to the undergraduates.  We generously estimated that graduate students were using approximately $20,000 worth of MSA services. The plan was to gradually work towards a model where there would be no automatic transfer of funds to the undergraduates other than for Clubs and Societies, but the MGA would contribute to other undergraduate services used, valued and decided upon by graduate students.

The MGA negotiated with the undergraduate student associations on the other campuses and came to agreement about the amount of graduate student funding to be transferred: Caulfield (which has the same size graduate student population as Clayton) received $65,000; Peninsula received $5000; and Parkville acknowledged that they didn’t offer any services to graduate students so no funding was transferred.  Both Caulfield and Peninsula acknowledged the MGA’s argument that the current funding model was outdated and unsustainable, and agreed to work towards a slow reduction in funds.  The MGA is already running joint events with both these student associations, so the process of negotiating in good faith has resulted in strong working relationships.

The MSA refused to meet with the MGA to start negotiations, delaying the process by 10 months.  The MSA eventually presented figures of graduate student use of their services but some of these were demonstrably incorrect and others figures varied from meeting to meeting.  They did not make much effort to enter into a genuine dialogue, seemingly confident that if they forced the negotiations to be unsuccessful, they would get a better outcome from the DVC (Education).  MSA was subsequently encouraged by the university to meet with the MGA, and four meetings were held, after which the MSA complained to the university that negotiations had broken down.  However, the MGA was still committed to negotiating a satisfactory outcome for graduate students, as they had successfully managed to do with the undergraduate student associations on all other campuses.  At this point the DVC (Education) requested submissions from both associations and made a decision in MSA’s favour.

In addition to all Australian legislation, the MGA is bound by their Constitution, the Incorporated Associations Act and their Funding Agreement with the university.  As an independent body, the MGA is not subject to university directives. Our core role is to act in the best interests of graduate students.  A break-down in funding negotiations between the MGA and the MSA does not constitute a breach of any of the MGA’s obligations.  There is no framework in place to deal with the situation where there is a dispute over the SSAF funding negotiations with the undergraduates.  We believe the most logical first step in this instance would have been to set up a discussion between the university and the MGA as to how to sensibly move forward.  Instead, there was an ad-hoc arbitration process applied, with very little notice, and no opportunity for consultation or discussion. Had there been an independent, equitable and transparent arbitration process agreed to by the MGA and the university, the MGA would have agreed to abide by the outcome.

At the beginning of the negotiations, the MSA wanted $70,000 – $90,000, then they increased their demand to 10% of the graduate student funds.  However four weeks before the matter went to the DVC (Education) for a ruling, the MSA increased their claim again to 15%.

Taking the SSAF funds alone, the MSA is already funded at a much higher rate per head than the MGA is funded.  This is because MGA has a lot more part-time graduate students who pay a lower SSAF.  In 2017, the MGA received $86 per student and the MSA received $108 per undergraduate, before any transfer of graduate student funds.   In addition, when the overall income (SSAF funds and income from activities and investments) is considered, the MSA receives over twice the rate per head than the MGA receives.  The MSA also receives more capital development money each year per head than the MGA, and more ad-hoc funding from university departments.  So no, not really.

The MSA provided statistics on three services only.  The most popular MSA service used by graduate students is Clubs and Societies.  MSA reported that there are 707 graduate students involved in MSA clubs.   The second most popular service is MSA volunteering with 368 graduate students, and the third is Free Food Wednesdays, with 288 graduate students attending.  To put that in perspective, there are around 13,000 graduate students on Clayton campus.  MSA figures equate to 5% of Clayton graduate students using MSA Clubs, 2% of Clayton graduates students using volunteering, and 2% of Clayton graduate students attending free food Wednesdays.  The MGA’s own survey showed that Clubs and Societies was valued by graduate students, but that their interest in other MSA services dropped off rapidly after that.

We have 269 honours students who are officially considered undergraduates but are registered with our graduate student groups.  The majority of these undergraduates are located at hospital sites with their HDR counterparts.  They pay a Clayton campus amenities fee.  Through the MGA group grants they receive the majority of their social functions and activities.  Given they are located off-campus, they are unable to access MSA services.  There was no consideration by the university of undergraduate funds going back to the MGA for these services, which have been provided for over 25 years, free of charge.

Good question.  It doesn’t!  Essentially, the MSA are demanding 15% of graduate SSAF funding for the provision of a few services to 2% – 5% of the graduate student population.  By comparison, the MGA ran over 500 MGA activities on Clayton campus in 2018, which were used by thousands of graduate students.  Logically, having 5% of the graduate student population using a single MSA service should only translate to the equivalent of between 1 to 2% of the graduate student funds, given those students are also benefiting from many more MGA activities as well as all of the MGA representative services.  As the basis for her decision, the DVC (Education) quoted a 7 year old KPMG report recommendation, which is no longer of any relevance to current student association practices, given the rapid changes in the higher education sector over that time.  So facts don’t seem to play much of a role in the university’s decision.

The University of Melbourne has merged some of their student association services to the detriment of their graduate student association. The DVC (Education) is keen to replicate that structure at Monash, and the MSA is a keen supporter of this proposal.  The MGA has been the most outspoken association against this proposal as we believe that graduate students want tailored services, and we know from personal experience, that where graduate student and undergraduate student associations and services are merged, graduate student interests are always marginalised.  Taking away a substantial amount of funding from the MGA will result in poorer services for our cohort, making the MGA less relevant.  Substantially increasing the funding to the undergraduates allows the MSA to build up their services.  One possible reason for this decision by the university is that it offers a back-door into a student association merger down the line.

Both MSA and MGA were invited to make a submission to the DVC (Education).  We were not shown the MSA’s submission, and therefore had no right of reply.  We had no interview or discussion with the DVC (Education).  We were not told who the DVC (Education) consulted with in making the decision, or on what grounds.  Legitimate concerns we raised in our submission were not addressed in the reply. The process lacked transparency and ignored the principles of natural justice.  This level of intervention in student association affairs is unprecedented at Monash University, and is completely counter to our Constitution.

Up until this point we’ve tried to argue on the basis of fact. Below are links to some of the key submissions we have made on your behalf.   So for those who love the nitty gritty details of a good story or those who simply want to procrastinate so they don’t have to face that assignment or thesis chapter this afternoon, be our guest.

We are currently refusing to pay these funds to the undergraduates as doing so would breach our constitution, and our obligations under the Incorporated Associations Act, both of which direct us to act in the best interests of graduate students.  But have reached out to our community via a survey, so we can be sure that the actions we take from this point forward, reflect your views as accurately as possible.

For further reading

Note on terminology: MGA changed its name from Monash Postgraduate Association to Monash Graduate Association in mid-2019, so the following documents will reflect our former name.

MGA discussion paper on graduate student funding of generic services, circulated to the undergraduate organisations at the start of the negotiations, September 2017. Read now

The MGA submission to the DVC (Education) in compliance with the dispute resolution process, June 2019. Read now

The letter received from the DVC (Education) with the outcome of the dispute resolution process, June 2019. Read now

Other Campaigns

Scholarships stipends for graduate research students

In December 2018, the MGA submitted a request to the Graduate Research Committee (GRC) that they consider increasing the scholarship stipend to $30,000 in line with the standard scholarship rates being paid by the University of Melbourne.   The GRC was concerned that were they to increase the stipend they would have fewer scholarships to allocate.  The MGA urged the GRC to lobby the university to increase the pool of funding so that a choice between stipend rates and number of scholarships did not need to be made.   The University of Melbourne has now increased their rates to $31,500! The MGA has continued to lobby on this issue through a number of avenues, and is hopeful of an outcome soon.

 

Domestic violence leave for all students

The MGA has successfully lobbied to have domestic violence leave included in all degree regulations as a separate category of leave.  In the case of HDR scholarship holders, the leave will be paid.  For graduate coursework students and undergraduate students the leave will be unpaid.  There is further work to be done in ensuring that federally regulated scholarship conditions are amended to reflect this local change.

 

Mental health concerns

In response to a rise in mental illnesses in the graduate student community, the MGA decided to undertake an audit of all the stressors in the life of an HDR student.  Data was drawn from the MGA HDR survey conducted in December 2017 and the MGA advocacy casework database for 2017 and 2018.

The audit matches existing central programs and services against each stressor to identify gaps in service and support provision. The next step for the MGA is to work on selected issues and gaps identified through the audit.  The full audit document is a work-in-progress, so is continually being updated.  For the latest version, email jenny.reeder@monash.edu

Additionally, two one-day mental health workshops were trialled in September 2019 with great success.  However our plans to roll out these workshops to all faculties in 2020 have unfortunately been cancelled due to the university redirecting 15 % of the Clayton graduate student SSAF funds to the Clayton undergraduates in 2019 and 2020.

 

The 2017 HDR survey

We had a tremendous response to our 2017 HDR survey with over 660 graduate students taking the time to record their experiences. We included plenty of opportunity for open comments to allow students to tell us their personal stories, resulting in over sixty pages of comments in addition to the quantitative data. As researchers, you all know how time consuming it is working through qualitative data, but it’s also very illuminating!

We were able to employ a researcher to work through this data so here is an update:

  • A brief high-level summary of the quantitative data has been produced and circulated to University senior management and the Graduate Research Committee (GRC). You can find this report on our Reports & Submissions
  • A report for each faculty, with faculty-specific data and a comments section are being finalised and will be available online soon.
  • A cross-faculty comparison report is in production now.

 

Requesting preference for parents when allocating tutorial times

Parents from the Faculty of Education raised this issue with us some time ago and although we hit a dead-end with our lobbying at the time, we’re still trying to get some change in this area.  We would like to see faculties giving parents a preference when allocating tutorial times to students. This would put a stop to parents being allocated tutorial times that clash with child drop-off and pick-up times, effectively preventing them from participating in their tutorials.

We’ve all read the about the University winning all those family-friendly awards – let’s see how family-friendly we can coax the university into actually being at a grass-roots level where it really counts.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA)

CAPA  represents the interests of Australia’s 320,000+ graduate students. CAPA’s member organisations include the MGA and 33 other relevant associations, as well as the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association (NATSIPA). As the national voice on graduate student issues, CAPA makes representations to the Federal Government, the Opposition party and higher education peak bodies. Click here to find out more about CAPA.

Got some feedback for us?

It’s important for the MGA to get feedback on your graduate student experience at Monash so we know what’s good, what’s not so good and what can be improved. The MGA is recognised by University Council as the official representative body for graduate students, which means we have the connections and authority to lobby the University on your behalf. If you have a question or concern about University policies or practices, contact us so we can resolve your immediate concern and address any systemic issues by lobbying the University for change.

Reports & Submissions

Interested to know what the MGA has been up to? Click here to browse through our recent reports and submissions to the University.