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Postgraduate research students challenge University’s inequitable stipend increase

Postgraduate research students are challenging the University's decision to only increase the RTP stipend for incoming students.

Photo: Georgia Carr

Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students are challenging the University of Sydney’s decision to only offer a substantial stipend increase to incoming HDR students from 2020. 

The University recently increased the Research and Training Program (RTP) stipend by 25 per cent from $28 000, to $35 000 per annum, without consulting current scholarship students.

In a well attended Town Hall meeting today, HDR students unanimously voted against the University’s decision and openly challenged the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Education), Phillipa Pattinson.

“We believe that every postgraduate researcher deserves equal wages for equal work. If the University raises the RTP by $7 000 for some, then it must do so for everyone – but it’s about more than just fairness, it’s about our right to a living wage,” said Anna Sturman, PhD candidate in Political Economy. 

Pattinson justified the University’s decision in the Town Hall, and to Honi, saying, “the HDR stipend is not a wage. It is, rather, a contribution to living costs while a student is undertaking a research degree.”

Unimpressed with this response, a student told the gathering, “this is our living wage when it comes down to it. Wage, stipend, it makes no difference.”

The current RTP scholarship contract stipulates that students work 70 hours per fortnight. This amounts to $15.11 per hour which is below the Australian minimum wage.

Expressing solidarity with the HDR students, SRC President Liam Donohoe said, “you are our tutors and lecturers, and we recognise that your working conditions absolutely affect our learning conditions.”

HDR students who have recently commenced their degrees have been told by the University that they can quit and reapply in order to access the new, higher stipend. However, they are not guaranteed a place.

The students have received support from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and Australian Greens Senator and Spokesperson for Education, Dr Mehreen Faruqi. 

Over two hundred postgraduate researchers have joined an organising group with plans to grow the campaign into the new year.