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Govt bungles postgrad scholarships.

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Senator Natasha Stott Despoja

Democrats Senator for South Australia Australian Democrats spokesperson for Higher Education

Dated: 31 August 2004

Govt Bungles Postgrad Scholarships

The Federal Government is attempting to recoup around $5 million of funding from universities caused by a bureaucratic bungle and inadequate Federal funding, the Australian Democrats revealed today.

Democrats Higher Education Spokesperson Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said the Government would be reneging on its 2001 commitment to fully fund all pre-2002 Australian Postgraduate Awards (APAs) and allow universities to roll over surplus funds from the 2002-onwards component of APA grants.

"It appears recent changes announced by the Education Minister to simplify the RTS were not the only changes he is planning for university research training," Senator Stott Despoja said.

"The Department of Education, Science and Technology (DEST) wrote to universities last month to advise them that 'the two underlying principles which were agreed in 2001 cannot both be fulfilled'."

The letter outlined a "new approach to the end-of-year grant adjustment processes" for APAs funded during the period 2002 to 2004, which will require universities to cover the funding shortfall that has occurred during the transition to the new APA grant arrangements.

"More than $10 million of unspent APA funds were returned to Government coffers between 1998 and 2001, yet DEST is now suggesting universities use some of their unspent APA funds to cover the Government's under-allocation of funding for APAs commenced prior to 2002," Senator Stott Despoja said.

"I understand at least one university has already written to its postgraduate students, advising them that 'these changes [to the APA funding arrangements] will reduce the University's capacity to cover periods of extension and have the potential to cost the University up to $250,000 per year. This money is not refundable from the Government.'

"I am extremely concerned that students will be directly affected if universities have to cover this funding shortfall.

"No university or postgraduate student should suffer as a result of this funding sham. I urge Minister Nelson to immediately reassure students and universities that he will provide additional funding to meet the Government's original commitments."