Closing the Loop report from the Uni to the students. DV3: Coursework.This project is still underway, expected completion of all three data collection phases is mid-November.

Results from Phase 1 will not be released until after Phase 3 is completed and analysed.

Results from Phase 2 consist of four separate feedback events (DV1-4) and are posted here as they are processed. The topics for each of these phases has been selected during the project in real time response to the University decision making agenda in regards to the HDR experience.


Phase 2 – Direct Voice Feedback Event 1 – Proposed changes to PRSS

The Postgraduate Research Support Scheme (PRSS) at the University of Sydney provides University funding to attend conferences around the world. It can also support your fieldwork or research overseas. Here is the University of Sydney page detailing the PRSS scheme. There was a proposal by the University to make extensive changes to this system from a competitive bidding system to a fixed system.

This is the FAQ information sheet that was provided to respondents for DV1 PRSS

This is a PDF of the questionnaire. for DV1 PRSS

97 HDR students responded to this questionnaire with 75% of them saying they did not support the proposed change. The University listened and has decided to abandon this change.

 Executive summary feedback report DV1 (PRSS) to the University Executive – Research & Education Committee

Key excerpts from this report:

The Central Question: A key proposed change is to move away from a competitive bidding system and towards an equally distributed fixed system. Would you prefer a fixed payment distributed to all HDR students? For example, all PhD’s would receive the exact same amount. There would be no application process or competitive bidding. Applicants would need to use funding provided towards activities related to the completion of their degree. The amount of money to distribute across the university would be the same, therefore, the amount granted to each student would be much less than what is usually awarded right now. It also means that everyone who is eligible would receive some money. For example, with the current budget, it would be in the vicinity of approximately $400 for each PhD student, three times during their candidature.

Counts/frequency: Yes I would like to move to a fixed system. I would prefer everyone receive a fixed amount (that will be much lower than the maximum you can bid for in the current system). (21, 21.6%), No I do not want to change to a fixed amount system. I would prefer we keep the competitive bidding process where funds are allocated based on needs and merit (successful applicants will receive a higher amount than in the “fixed system” but some applicants may miss out). (60, 61.9%)

PRSS figure 1

This chart shows in red the percentage of respondents that would like to keep PRSS the same and in blue the percentage that would like to move to a fixed system. N=97

If the decision was made for a fixed amount, what would you like this to look like?Counts/frequency: One lump sum for the entire candidature given part-way through (in the vicinity of $1,200 for the entire degree at the current budget). (35, 36.1%), Three annual payments of equal value. (in the vicinity of $400 at the current budget). (33, 34.0%), Scaled annual payments, a smaller amount the first year and a larger amount in the third year. (29, 29.9%)

If it stays as competitive bidding should it be standardized?Counts/frequency: University wide standardisation (28, 28.9%), Faculty wide standardisation (42, 43.3%), No standardisation. Each department should make their own guidelines. (27, 27.8%)

If it stays the same do you think the fixed application date should remain?Counts/frequency: Yes, keep it the same, one annual date for all applications. (18, 22.2%), No, I would like to see a rolling application process with several dates a year. (63, 77.8%)

View more detailed, de-identified data for DV1 PRSS here  This report includes open-ended comment responses. The comments from the respondents were very thoughtful and provided a very rich dataset. The University Executive was very interested to read these comments and reflected this in their “closing the loop report”.

Closing the Loop report from the University to the students on DV1 PRSS

Key excerpts from this report:

In September 2016, the Director – Graduate Research proposed a series of reforms to the Post-Graduate Research Support Scheme (PRSS). These reforms were presented to the Senior Executive Group-Research Training Committee (SEG-RTC) on the basis that implementing these reforms would lead to fairer outcomes for students, a clear process for applications and more efficient administration. The proposal also addressed recommendation 8 of the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency audit[1] of the University in 2012. This proposal is attached as appendix 1. The committee decided, somewhat reluctantly, to support the proposal subject to consultation with students (SEG-RTC minutes, October 2016).

A separate application and reform proposal also sought a significant injection of funds into the PRSS scheme, but this application was unsuccessful.

In the intervening period, the Higher Degree By Research Administration Centre (HDRAC) invested in a more streamlined application system, which went a long way to reducing the administrative overhead of the PRSS.

As part of the UE-REC supported project Direct Voice, run by Ms. Rebecca Johnson (SUPRA and FASS), a group of HDR students were independently survey with respect to the proposed changes. The results of this survey were presented to the UE-RE committee on 6 September 2017 (item 5.4). The quantitative data showed that 74.1% of the 97 students polled were not supportive of the change to current practice. Within the detailed questions, there was some support for moving towards a fixed, rather than variable competitive allocation, if the sums awarded were greater. The qualitative comments in the Direct Voice report were consistent with previous SREQ summaries and the TEQSA audit report in noting that the allocation methods used by faculties, schools and departments to distribute PRSS were often opaque or not provided.

From the above, we have concluded that:

  1. It is not appropriate to proceed with the PRSS reform package as presented to the September 2016 meeting of SEG-RTC.
  2. Faculties and schools must provide explicit advice to students on how PRSS applications are evaluated and the basis by which the available money is allocated to each student.
  3. Faculties and schools should inform all unsuccessful applicants as to the reasons why either individual application was not supported. We suggest that this information include more feedback than merely stating that the application was not competitive


In conclusion for DV1 PRSS:

  1. The University proposed a new scholarship scheme.
  2. The Direct Voice students voted 74% against these changes but also provided very insightful qualitative feedback.
  3. The University has decided not to go ahead with these changes. The University has acknowledged the qualitative feedback and is taking that into consideration for future planning of how to best serve the students in this regard.


Phase 2 – Direct Voice Feedback Event 2 – Postgraduate Qualities Initiative


The University is seeking to develop graduate qualities for PhD students (and most likely Masters by Research students afterward) in response to an identified gap in skills for graduates seeking to not only maximise their employability in academia but also when seeking employment in industry external to the Unversity.
Graduate qualities are usually defined as the nondiscipline specific skills or attributes that graduates acquire during the course of their degree. As part of the process of developing its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, the University determined the six Graduate Qualities that its undergraduate students should possess by the time they graduate. These qualities are developed in every student through engaging with the curriculum in discipline-specific ways across all Faculties. They have been devised to better equip
graduates to engage productively in life after graduation and are integral to the development of the knowledge and skills gained through participation in the university’s educational programs.

View the FAQ information sheet DV2 Postgraduate qualities

The response rate on this questionnaire was slightly lower most likely due to the fact that at the moment this initiative is pitched at PhD students. Masters by Research students come under faculty level guidance and it is envisioned that a successful model will be applied to Masters students in the future.

View the questionnaire for DV2 PG Qualities here.

78 people from the 133 registered Direct Voice participants responded to this feedback event. This number is roughly indicative of the percentage of PhD students to other HDR students involved in the study as 69 of these responses were from PhD students.
Appendix E shows some results by key demographic fields of faculty and full/part-time. At the UERE committee’s request I can provide additional reports based on the collected demographics listed above. I have included only the most noticeably different responses by faculty to the overall response, and only when n>10 which limits this to Arts, Science, and Medicine. It is worthy to note that Arts and Science differ the most in how they would like evidence of these qualities to be given. Other key differences between faculties are: motivation for undertaking an HDR, importance of the quality of cultural competency, and how much these qualities should be open to personalised tailoring.

There are more differences in opinion by age groups than by full/part-time status, or often even by faculty. These initial results would suggest that data mining by age group would be most important.
• More mature students value cultural competency higher.
• Younger people want more flexibility to tailor their qualities.
• Younger people are more likely to want something for their electronic portfolio whereas more mature students think it is enough that these qualities are implicit in a USyd degree.
The primary key areas of difference are:
• The importance of being able to tailor the qualities.
• The evidence of these qualities.
• The importance of cultural competency.

How important is it to you that you have the flexibility to tailor these qualities to your specific needs? Or do you feel that they should be standardised across all graduates at USyd?  N=73

important to have flexibility to tailor

Blue: Very important that I am able to tailor most of these qualities to my own needs and goals, with only a few core qualities that are standardised. Red: Important that I am able to tailor some of my graduate qualities. For instance, half core qualities and half qualities that I choose seems reasonable. Orange: I am happy for them to be mostly standardised with just a few additional qualities tailored to me. Yellow:  I am happy for them to be mostly standardised with just a few additional qualities tailored to me. Green: These qualities should be standardised for all research students at USyd. Purple: I don’t agree with this initiative

Do you think it is a good idea to add new graduate skills such as listed above (or on the FAQ sheet)? to the PhD degree? N=73

good idea pg qual

View the executive summary report on DV2 PG Qualities to the University Executive here

View the de-identified results and qualitative data here. This report includes open-ended comment responses. These comments are very insightful and provide a rich dataset which the University also considered in their Closing the Loop response to students.

The Closing the Loop report on DV2 Postgraduate Qualities noted that much of the opinion of the students was inline with that of the opinions of the academic community.

Key excerpts from this report:

The survey results were very consistent with feedback from the academic community at the University. First, the students supported the need for clearly articulating the graduate qualities for the PhD, and the importance of stating these qualities clearly to all relevant stakeholders. The survey also identified concerns, which were congruent with issues raised by staff. The over-riding theme was a concern about the details of implementation rather than the qualities themselves. Would the articulation of the graduate qualities lead to more work to meet them? The students were also concerned that by attempting to do the necessary activities to meet the graduate qualities would reduce the amount of time available to complete the PhD. The qualitative comments indicate that not only must the implementation of the means by which the students meet the graduate qualities be clear and unambiguous, but the design process must include meaningful conversations with stakeholders. A further key concern was that the components of an ecosystem for students to meet the graduate qualities must be flexible enough to accommodate the wide range of life-experiences of our PhD students prior to candidature. It was also apparent that there were no clear preferences for how a student’s achievements towards the graduate qualities might be captured and reported.

In designing the implementation of the means by which students can meet/demonstrate achievement of the graduate qualities, the DVC-Education portfolio team will incorporate the following into their planning and delivery:

View the complete Closing the Loop report on DV2 PG Qualities

In conclusion for DV2 PG Qualities:

The University has made the following recommendations for the development of this initiative.

  1. A high level of student representation and input into the design phase,
  2. A commitment that allowances for prior experiences of students are accounted for in the architecture for the graduate qualities, and
  3. Any structure that helps students meet the graduate qualities must lead to meaningful and authentic experiences, and not superficial box-ticking exercises.


Phase 2 – Direct Voice Feedback Event 3 – Mandatory Coursework for all HDRs.

The University has decided to implement mandatory coursework units for all HDR students (PhD, MPhil, Masters by Research). PhD students will be required to take 12 credit points of units, Masters students 6 credit points. It has been agreed on in principle but the exact details of how this will take shape are as yet undecided. Your opinion on the implementation will be considered as this is formed.

DV3 – Coursework FAQ

The response to this questionnaire was very complex. The qualitative comments are perhaps more important than even in DV1-PRSS and DV2-PG Qualities. There appeared to be strong emotional charge around this issue. My reading of the results is that in many cases it is not that the students don’t want the opportunity to take up some coursework (as long as the University covers the cost), but they seemed to strongly object to the fact that it will be compulsory and that they were not consulted on the primary decision. In fact, this goes to the core of my research question and seems to highlight that people will become more resistant to change when they feel that it is thrust upon them than when they are enabled to have some participatory input into the decisions of change. Interestingly, many people that objected most strongly to the program still said they would like to take courses, they just don’t want them to be mandatory.

A key point to highlight though, is the relatively high number of responses across the board for “Not sure”, “can’t say”, and “I don’t know”. The FAQ was written with as much information as I had at my disposal but I think that there was concern about how many suitable courses would be on offer as the link to the OLE list that is current does not show an extensive selection. You can also see from the qualitative statements that there is a strong expression of concern for time-frames and being able to fit everything in. Many people expressed that if they were to do 12 credit points then they would like 6 months extra time. Other comments were focussed on the concern of being able to do this whilst juggling teaching work during semester.

View DV3 – Coursework questionnaire


In summary, I think that many students would like to take some coursework that was useful to their studies (as long as the University pays), and whilst they may very well be happy to take at least the 12 credit points, they need to feel that the course selection can be tailored to them and that they have some control over their choices. There was a strong reaction to the “mandatory-ness” of it and the fact that this appeared to have been decided without any student consultation.

Overall, I think DV3 – Coursework has highlighted the needed for a stronger conversation with the HDRs in the development of this initiative. The results are complex and there is definitely a need for further discussion with the students and perhaps some more detailed feedback at a faculty level. I strongly urge the Committee to look through the qualitative comments in Appendix D. The comments are rich and insightful.

Knowing that the timeline is not until 2020 anyway, and that the University needs to develop some more OLE’s, it might be worth considering a “soft” pilot roll-out for the next two years. One that is not mandatory but that can assess student opinion on this during the development stage. This might facilitate the ability of the University to develop a program that is desirable by all stakeholders. By allowing students to take up the University’s offer of their own volition and carefully tailoring the selections to their requirements, it is likely that a stronger link will be developed between the students and the governing bodies. I would also suggest further student engagement and consultation as to the nature of the courses that would be offered. It was beyond the scope of this study to do that.

View the complete report back to the UE-RE on DV3 – Coursework

View the detailed data reported back to the UE-RE on DV3 – Coursework

When would you like to see this implemented?

N=81 Counts/frequency: 2018 – I want to take advantage of this ASAP (21, 25.9%), 2019 (10, 12.3%), 2020 (3, 3.7%), I don’t want this applied to my candidature (47, 58.0%)

plot-when_implement_v3 (4)

Green: I don’t want this applied to my candidature.   Blue: I want to take advantage of this ASAP  Red: 2019  Yellow: 2020

Closing the Loop report:

Closing the Loop report from the Uni to the students. DV3: Coursework

Phase 2 – Direct Voice Feedback Event 4 – Internship programs for HDRs.

In August 2017, the University developed an HDR Internships Working Party to investigate and develop a University-wide mechanism to support HDR students to undertake internships. The working party was established to address a variety of issues around this topic including how the program would run and what different models might be appropriate. It is very early days and the University is seeking input from Direct Voice HDR students on some of these upcoming decisions of how this program will look.

DV4 – Internships FAQ

Generally, respondents are interested in internships (75% of them) if time and money was not an issue. This drops down to 61% for the 35-44 years of age group, and down to 45% for 55+.

The question that asks if people are interested in a career in: Academia, industry, or on a boundary of the two, shows the most significant difference sitting with Arts students. Whilst overall only 27% selected “I am interested in a career in Academia”, 42% of Arts students are interested in pursuing academia. It is worth noting that even overall only 8% of respondents are interested in a career in industry. It is perhaps worth asking the question if students are given enough information and examples of how their degree could be translated into an industry environment.

This seems to be most pertinent to Arts students as the majority of them at 53% said that would like to undertake an internship that focussed on a career in academia despite the question stating “note that only a very small percentage of HDR graduates will find an uninterrupted career in academia”. This reinforces the need for more detailed study in this faculty as to whether students are aware and fully informed of how their degree might translate into a satisfying and rewarding career outside of academia.

DV4 – Internships Questionnaire

One of the key questions asked:

There are two proposed primary ways to fit this in during your candidature: 

1) Suspend your candidature (and RTP scholarship) so that you can undertake the internship during your research time. The time that your candidature is suspended for you to undertake the Internship will be added to the end of your candidature and push back your submission date. 

2) Fit the internship in during regular candidature with no suspension of scholarship or candidature and with a regular submission date.

Option 1 was favoured by most respondents but with only an overall preference of 38% as opposed to 30% to option 1. The fact that 19% of respondents were unsure indicates that this should be a more detailed discussion with students as to how to best develop these options. Again, Arts was the largest aberration with 53% preferring option 2, as opposed to 38% of Science students preferring option 1.

DV4 – Internships Report back to UE-Re

I believe the key takeaways are:

  1. People like the idea and generally would do one if time and money were not an issue but they are also concerned how this would work with mandatory coursework.
  1. The FASS internship framework needs much deeper consultation with the students including stronger education of what opportunities exist for careers in non-academia.
  1. A lot of people are interested in careers that sit across the border of industry and academia.
  1. The majority of respondents would prefer to have internship monies paid into their own taxable account than placed into a non-taxable account that would be managed by their supervisor.
  1. Most people would like to do this in the middle of their candidature.
  1. Most people would want it on their transcripts but Arts students are more interested in having it be an examinable part of their thesis and science students less so.

DV4 – Internships detailed data back to UE-RE

If you had the opportunity (time and money aside) would you like to undertake an internship?

N=83 Counts/frequency: Yes (63, 75.9%), No (14, 16.9%), I can’t say (6, 7.2%)

plot-would_you_v4 (1)

Blue: Yes        Red: No        Yellow: Can’t say

Closing the Loop report:

Closing the Loop report from the Uni to the students. DV4: Internships

Summary Newsletters from the researcher to the students

1st Summary Newsletter – 27th October 2017

2nd Summary Newsletter – 28th November 2017