When it comes to fees, research degrees are in a league of their own. Unlike undergraduate and postgraduate coursework students, who receive CSPs or full-fee places that they can pay off through government HELP loans, postgraduate research students are often exempted from paying tuition fees and can access a wide range of financial support options.
There are schemes and awards designed to assist research students to meet their program costs, as well as some that provide a modest wage, usually called a stipend, for the duration of their studies.
In this section we explore:
- Research Training Scheme (RTS)
- Other research funding schemes
- Undertaking paid work during your research degree
Research Training Scheme (RTS)
Domestic students undertaking higher degrees by research are generally entitled to a place in the Commonwealth-funded Research Training Scheme (RTS), which provides them with an exemption from tuition fees for the duration of their research. This funding is limited to two years (full time or equivalent) for masters by research students, or four years (full time or equivalent) for doctoral degree students. The RTS usually covers research students' enrolment in any relevant coursework units too, such as a research preparation subject taken in the first semester of study. There may be some restrictions, so it's best to check with your faculty's student advisers.
The RTS is funded by the federal government's Department of Education, and provides grants to Australian higher education providers in order to support students undertaking research degrees. The scheme only applies to students undertaking a research doctoral degree or a masters by research degree — coursework students who complete a minor research component are not covered.
The federal government provides block grants to eligible higher education providers to support the provision of research training. These grants are allocated using a performance-based formula and are independent of funding for specific projects, programs or fellowships.
Other research funding schemes
In addition to the RTS, there are a number of government-funded schemes in place to support the provision of research and research training by Australian higher education providers. These include:
Australian Postgraduate Awards (APA)
The APA program provides an annual stipend and other support to selected high-achieving research students. APAs are provided to assist with students' living costs and general expenses while undertaking a higher degree by research. Awards are available for a period of two years for masters by research students and three years for doctoral students. Doctoral students can apply for a six-month extension if needed.
In 2016, full-time research students with APAs are entitled to a tax-free stipend of $26,288, while part-time students receive $13,144. Participating education providers are allocated APA funding by the government based on their overall research performance. Individual institutions allocate the awards based on their own selection criteria, so interested research students should contact their institution and apply to the institution directly. For more information, see the Department of Education website.
International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS)
The IPRS scheme is designed to assist international students to undertake a postgraduate research program. The program provides funding for a period of two years for a masters by research degree or three years for a doctoral degree. It covers tuition fees and health cover costs for recipients, as well as the health cover costs for any dependants. IPRS holders are also eligible to apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award (see above). Applications are open to students from all countries except New Zealand, and a total of 330 places are awarded each year. Applications are made directly to the institution. For more information, see the Department of Education website.
Undertaking paid work during your research degree
Many research students can pick up short-term or casual work in their faculty, often as a tutor for undergraduate classes. Some are employed as research assistants by senior academics, helping with lab work, data collection and administrative tasks. Be aware that there may be restrictions on paid work for students with scholarships, although this varies between institutions. Some recommend no more than six hours per week while others specify a maximum of around 20 hours. Almost all policies state that paid work must not interfere with scholarship students' research.
You may also choose to continue working in a part-time or casual job, which may not necessarily be related to your research field. The hours you work may depend on your study load.