Research Training Program (RTP) - Frequently Asked Questions for university administrators

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1. Are students that have previously completed an HDR, held a postgraduate research scholarship, or withdrawn from a research degree, eligible to apply for an RTP Scholarship?

Yes. Students who have undertaken a previous higher degree by research (HDR) are eligible to apply for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship regardless of their previous enrolment circumstances.

2. Can a university exclude a student from applying for an RTP Scholarship if the student has previously applied for an RTP Scholarship or is already in the second year of their HDR?

No. Universities do not have authority to change the eligibility rules specified in the Commonwealth Scholarship Guidelines (Research) 2017 (RTP Guidelines). Any student that meets the eligibility criteria can apply for an RTP Scholarship. However, universities have discretion to use their selection processes to pick the best students and to prioritise different classes of students (for example first class honours, Indigenous background, industry experience, undertaking an HDR for the first time).

3. Can a university limit part-time RTP Scholarships to students with special circumstances? For example, caring responsibilities, medical condition, disability or other circumstances limiting capacity for full-time study.

Yes. These matters are at the discretion of each university as there are no specific part-time based restrictions in the RTP Guidelines. The only requirement is that universities must identify in their RTP Scholarship Policy the policies and processes relating to changes in the nature of a student's enrolment, including changing from full-time to part-time or part-time to full-time.

4. Can a university specify additional conditions to RTP Scholarship recipients? For example, requiring a student to reside in Australia or live within commuting distance of an approved campus.

Yes. Universities are able to specify additional conditions that apply to RTP Scholarship recipients, including in relation to a student's ability to make satisfactory progress on their HDR. If a University wishes to apply additional conditions to RTP Scholarship recipients these must be specified in its RTP Scholarship Policy.

5. Is a student located offshore at an Australian university still eligible to receive an RTP Scholarship?

Yes. The RTP Guidelines do not preclude an RTP supported student from studying offshore at an Australian university provided the arrangement is approved by the university.

6. Are universities required to advise students each year of the estimated annual value of their RTP Scholarship?

Yes. The RTP Guidelines require that universities now clearly identify to the HDR candidate the estimated amount of Australian Government support provided for each type of RTP Scholarship support. Universities are only required to estimate the value of support provided to each HDR student and make that amount known to the individual HDR student or candidate. This amount could be an estimated average level of support, or a range

7. Can the estimated annual value of support advised to a student also include the amount funded from a university's own funds?

Yes. RTP offer letters to students can contain the research tuition fee amount funded by both the Australian Government and the university. However, it is important that the estimated Australian Government component is clearly identifiable (for example an estimated $20,000 from the Australian Government and an estimated $20,000 from the University per year).

8. What estimated annual value of RTP Scholarship support should a university notify to a student who is undertaking a Joint Degree?

How the range, estimated or exact value of an RTP Fees Offset is calculated and then advised to students is at the discretion of each university, including in relation to joint degrees.

In relation to RTP Stipends, regardless of which institution administers the stipend payments the amount identified should be the total stipend amount funded by the Australian Government (and if/where appropriate include a university contribution).

9. Can a student awarded an RTP Fees Offset be charged a tuition fee for their HDR course?

No. As specified in sub-paragraph 1.6.25 of the RTP Guidelines, if a university awards a student an RTP Fees Offset the university is required to "extinguish the liability of the student receiving the RTP Fees Offset to pay tuition fees". An RTP student awarded an RTP Fees Offset therefore would not be able to be charged a tuition fee for the period they are receiving the RTP Fees Offset.

10. What type of RTP Allowances can be awarded to students?

Universities have the discretion to award an RTP Allowance for any ancillary costs related to a student's HDR. While the RTP Guidelines provides a list of examples of RTP Allowances this list is not exhaustive.

11. Can a university offer an RTP Fees Offset only and no RTP Stipend or vice versa?

Yes. Each university has the discretion to offer a mix of stipend, fee offset and allowance support.

12. What are the periods of support for RTP Scholarships?

For each RTP Scholarship awarded the following minimum and maximum periods of RTP entitlement apply:

  • Research Doctorate: A minimum of three years and maximum of four years full-time student load
  • Research Masters: A maximum of two years full-time student load

The periods of support for part-time students are double the full-time equivalent amounts.

13. How is a student's maximum period of support determined and what are the arrangements for students transferring from other Australian universities?

A student's maximum period of RTP Scholarship support is based on the student's HDR course commencement date (which may or may not have occurred at a previous university and may or may not have been supported through the RTP).

In relation to transferring students, universities are required to seek information from the originating university on the student's HDR course commencement date and the amount of Equivalent Full-Time Student Load (EFTSL) undertaken in that course. As no RTP funding is transferred between institutions, universities should also ensure that sufficient funds are available to support the transferring student's RTP scholarship.

14. When is a student eligible to transfer their RTP Scholarship?

For a student to be eligible to transfer their RTP scholarship to another HEP the student must be currently in receipt of an RTP scholarship, or be in an approved period of suspension or leave. If a student has withdrawn from their higher degree by research (HDR) they are no longer eligible to transfer their RTP scholarship. However, a withdrawn student would still be eligible to apply for a new RTP scholarship as part of a university's usual scholarship processes.

15. How should universities manage RTP Scholarships for students who transfer from another university, upgrade from a Research Masters, or downgrade from a Research Doctorate?

These matters are at the discretion of each university. However, there is a requirement that each university outline in its RTP Scholarship Policy all policies and procedures relating to transfers, upgrades and downgrades.

16. Do approved periods of leave extend the maximum duration of a student's RTP Stipend?

The maximum period of support for a student receiving an RTP Stipend is increased by any of the following types of paid leave if approved by a university:

  • additional paid sick leave (i.e. beyond the basic entitlement 10 working days per annum)
  • maternity leave (or equivalent parental leave)
  • adoption leave
  • supporting partner leave

However, a student's maximum period of support is not increased for periods of leave approved by a university in relation to the basic leave entitlements of 20 working days paid recreation leave and 10 working days paid sick leave.

Please refer to the RTP Guidelines for more information on these types of leave.

17. Is paid maternity leave only available for women giving birth?

While maternity leave as specified in the RTP Guidelines strictly refers to women giving birth, in line with best practice standards, the RTP Guidelines also provide flexibility for leave to be granted to partners of women giving birth (subject to the usual practice of the university).

18. What are the leave arrangements for part-time students receiving RTP Stipends?

Leave arrangements for RTP Stipend recipients studying on a part-time basis are calculated pro-rata where periods are specified in working days in the RTP Guidelines. For example, a part-time student on 0.5 EFTSL would be eligible for 10 days recreation leave and 5 days sick leave per annum.

The 12 month eligibility periods specified for maternity leave, adoption leave and supporting partner leave are the same regardless of whether a student is studying on a full-time or part-time basis.

19. What are the requirements for the 'RTP Scholarship Policy'

Section.1.6.45 of the rules requires that each University publish an RTP Scholarship Policy that is separate to that University's general scholarships policy. The aim of this new requirement is to create a one-stop-shop for HDR candidates and students to access information on RTP Scholarships.

In the development of RTP Scholarship Policies the department expects that there may be some amount of overlap with other existing policies (such as a grievance policy). In these situations it is sufficient to provide links to these existing policies in the RTP Scholarship Policy rather than duplicating the material in the single RTP Scholarship Policy.

20. What are the tax implications for part-time RTP students?

Based on published information from the Australian Tax Office on similar scholarships, part−time student stipends are taxable and fee offsets for part−time students are tax free.

This is based on the ATO class ruling (CR 2003/84) which considered the offering by Bond University of PhD Research Scholarships comprising a stipend for living costs and a tuition fee waiver. The ruling was clear that fee waivers were not considered income.

Given the strong parallels with the ruling and arrangements in the RTP Guidelines, the department's understanding is that RTP Fees Offsets do not constitute income and are therefore not be subject to income tax.

The department therefore expects that the arrangements in place for RTP Fees Offset, Stipend and Allowances have no additional impact on part−time students compared to the previous Research Training Scheme, International Postgraduate Research Scholarships and the Australian Postgraduate Awards schemes.

Note that all students are responsible for ensuring that they comply with their tax liabilities.

21. What terminology should be used by universities when advertising Research Training Program Scholarships?

The terminology universities should refer to is Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship.

22. How are universities expected to acknowledge the Commonwealth's contribution in publications?

Section 1.6.55 of the RTP Guidelines sets out the requirement for universities to ensure the Commonwealth's contribution is acknowledged in research publications by RTP students where related to the research project. The acknowledgement must include mention of the student's support through an "Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship".

An example acknowledgement statement would be, "This research is/was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship."

23. With regards to termination of scholarship, does 'completion of study' include the time where a student is under examination?

The definition of 'completion of study' for a HDR is not specified in HEIMS or the RTP Guidelines. Whether this includes or excludes the period of examination is therefore at the discretion of each university.

24. Can professional doctorates be classified as Research Doctorates and included as HDR student completions in the RTP funding formula?

The RTP Guidelines define a Research Doctorate as a degree that:

  • includes at least two-thirds research work; and
  • meets the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) description for 'Doctoral Degree (Research)'

Professional doctorates that consist of less than two-thirds research are not included in the RTP funding formula and should be reported through HEIMS element 310 as code 12 (Doctorate by Coursework). Students in these degrees are not eligible for RTP Scholarships.

Professional doctorates that comprise at least two-thirds research are included in the RTP funding formula and should be reported through HEIMS as code 02 (Doctorate by Research). Students in these degrees are eligible for RTP Scholarships.

The definition of research can be found in the Higher Education Research Data Collection Specifications.

25. Are completions from HDR students in Cotutelle programs included as HDR student completions in the RTP funding formula?

Yes. HDR completions by students enrolled at Australian universities in Cotutelle programs are included in RTP funding formula.

26. What information does the university need to report in relation to the 10 per cent limit on overseas students?

To ensure that universities comply with the requirement of a maximum of 10 per cent of funding spent on RTP Scholarships for overseas students (subparagraph 1.6.30 of the RTP Guidelines) the department will require some annual high-level expenditure reporting as described in the financial statement guidelines for higher education providers.

27. Are all RTP students required to have CHESSNs?

Universities are required to report Commonwealth Higher Education Student Support Numbers (CHESSN) for all domestic Research Training Program (RTP) students. Universities are also encouraged to report CHESSNs for overseas students, however this is voluntary.

28. When can my university begin offering extensions to RTP students due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The RTP Guidelines were amended on 23 July 2020 to include provisions to grant extensions to RTP students that are materially adversely impacted by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Extensions can formally be granted from this date but cannot be approved after 31 December 2022.

29. Which students are eligible to apply for RTP scholarship extensions?

Eligibility for extensions is restricted to students who were enrolled in Research Doctorate or Research Masters course of study on 1 March 2020, and who were materially adversely impacted by coronavirus restrictions.

30. Are part-time students eligible for RTP scholarship extensions?

Yes. The maximum six month extension also applies to part-time students.

31. Are RTP scholarships extensions available for both RTP stipends and RTP fees offsets?

Yes.

32. What processes does my university need to have in place in order to offer RTP scholarship extensions?

A university must have clear and transparent procedures for the offering of RTP scholarship extensions specified in its RTP Scholarship Policy, which needs to be publicly available.