The Numbers: Living Allowances

So what does the average research postgraduate on a scholarship live on at UWA? Most receive either an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) which is funded by the Federal government, or a University Postgraduate Award (UPA) which is funded by the university. The value of both of these scholarships is the same:

Both scholarships come with some conditions, namely:

  • A recipient can’t receive any other scholarships or salary greater than 75 per cent of the APA annual value. (Australian Postgraduate Awards and University Postgraduate Awards Conditions, p.2)
  • A recipient can’t work more than eight hours per week during the hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. (Australian Postgraduate Awards and University Postgraduate Awards Conditions, p.14)

We talked about Centrelink in What is this all for? – postgraduate research students are not eligible.

The annual living allowance for postgraduate research students receiving the APA across the country is as per the table below.1

2001 2002 2003 2004
$17,267 $17,609 $18,009 $18,484
2005 2006 2007 2008
$18,872 $19,231 $19,616 $20,007
2009 2010 2011 2012
$20,427 $22,500 $22,860 $23,728
2013 2014 2015 2016
$24,653 $25,392 $25,849 $26,288

This is not a lot of money to live on, a fact UWA acknowledged in 2009 when it introduced the Safety Net Top Up Scheme. At the time, UWA and the Group of Eight were lobbying the Federal Government to raise the APA level to at least $30,000 per year, in order to provide a living wage to postgraduate research students.

It was a fabulous initiative, which helped students complete their theses and produce high-quality research. UWA should be very proud to be the only Group of Eight university to provide this safety net, as Deputy Vice Chancellor Owens was in her letter to the editor.

Lets take a look at the total income for a typical research student at UWA each year from 2001 to 2016.

APA v Top Up 3

From 2001 to 2008, there was no Safety Net Top-Up. It was introduced in 2009 valued at $5000. In 2010 the Top-Up value was lowered to $3,500 (we assume in response to the significant increase to the APA baseline in 2010) and continued at that value until 2014. In 2014, the decision was made that UWA would only continue to fund the Safety Net to a maximum of $29,000 per year from 2015 onwards. Once the value of the APA is $29,000, UWA will discontinue the the Safety Net Top-Up Scholarship. In 2015 and 2016, UWA is spends less on the living allowance for research students.

As weekly income goes, even with the Top-Up, UWA research students are not in an especially comfortable position. Since 2011 they have been receiving just enough to prevent them from living in poverty.2

Poverty line v weekly income 2001-2015.jpg

Looking at this graph, the difference the Top-Up made to the lives of UWA postgraduates in 2009 is indisputable. It elevated their weekly income to the highest above the poverty line it had been since 2003.

Deputy Vice Chancellor Owens claims that “PhD students are valued research community members”3 but this reduction in funding doesn’t reflect that statement. Getting rid of the Safety Net Top-Up will result in that blue line trending beneath the poverty line once again, just as it did from 2006 to 2009.

We don’t believe that the Deputy Vice Chancellor is genuinely comfortable defending cuts that will leave research students living on or below the poverty line.

If you would like help with your finances, links to helplines and resources are available from MoneySmart.

Further Reading:
Data sets and methodology for graphs on Vagabond Historian
Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations’ submission to Building Australia’s Research Capacity Report (2008)

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