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

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

The department consulted widely on the implementation arrangements, including through a public consultation process and a Reference Group including the Universities Australia's Deputy Vice Chancellor Research (DVCR) Executive Group.

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

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).

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).

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

The new arrangements require 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.

Universities are required to have an RTP Scholarship Policy in place by 30 June 2017. The department has some flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances beyond this date. In the interim, universities are able to retain their current Research Training Scheme (RTS), International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS) and Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) polices as equivalent RTP policies. This will enable sufficient time for universities to internally consult, update their systems and processes, and update their marketing and recruitment strategies.

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.

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

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."

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.

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.

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

The department is able to approve the rollover of unspent 2016 funds from the former APA, IPRS, JRE, JRE Cadetships, RIBG and SRE programs into the new RTP and RSP to be expended in 2017. However, the department will not be able to approve rollovers of unexpended 2016 RTS funding due to restrictions stipulated in the Higher Education Support Act 2003.

The approval of rollover amounts from the former programs will be announced in the second half of 2017 following the department's annual rollover assessment process.

The department will introduce substantial enhancements to the Higher Education Student Data Collection for the reporting of 2017 data. For the first time HDR student data will be collected for Field of Research (FoR), industry experience and detailed information on completion timeframes.

The department will also implement changes to the Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) for the reporting of 2017 data. These changes will result in the removal of higher degree by research (HDR) fees from Category 3, a revision of the Category 2, 3 and 4 sub−categories to better identify engagement income, and a change in the reporting of Category 4 income from financial year to calendar year.

The department has published a consultation paper on these new requirements.

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.

The department has proposed in its consultation paper that the following information be collected:

Total university RTP expenditure - 2017

Total domestic students

Total overseas students

RTP Fees Offsets

$x

$x

RTP Stipends

$x

$x

RTP Allowances

$x

$x

Total for all types of support

$x

$x

The commencement of these additional data collection arrangements will be confirmed following the conclusion of the consultation process.

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.

No. While CHESSNs are required for domestic RTP students, there is no requirement for ongoing RTP students to complete a Commonwealth Assistance Form (CAF). Section 40.2 and Appendix J of the Administrative Information for Providers (AIP) has further information on privacy requirements and seeking informed consent.

Universities are required to notify students of their CHESSN. While universities currently do this through Commonwealth Assistance Notices (CAN) for non-research students, there is no specific requirement to issue a CAN for RTP students. This means that universities have discretion in how they advise RTP students of their CHESSN, however it is likely that the most practical method would be through the RTP Scholarship offer process. The department's template RTP letter of offer to continuing students provides an example of this process.

RTP students are not required to give their consent to obtain a CHESSN. Rather, this is an action of the University which is undertaken on the behalf of individual students. The only requirement on RTP students is that they are required to provide their consent for the University to report their personal information to the department.

Am overseas students awarded an RTP Fees Offset should be coded as 00000 for the Higher Education Information Management System (HEIMS) element 500.

Students are reported as they are at the census date at the unit of study level. A previously reported record is only revised if what was reported was incorrectly coded.

In the example provided above, the student is reported with the RTP Fee Offset for the units this has been granted for and once the RTP is no longer associated to a unit the university would report those records accordingly.