UNSW Sydney raises stipends for Higher Degree Research scholarships

06 Dec 2022
UNSW Sydney raises stipends for Higher Degree Research scholarships

UNSW will lift stipends for PhD and other HDR scholarship candidates from 2023, to set the benchmark for living wage stipends in Australia.

UNSW has announced it will raise stipends for all Higher Degree Research (HDR) scholarship candidates in 2023 – and again in 2024 – to help to ease the financial stress they face due to cost-of-living pressures.

All new higher degree research scholarships will be offered at the rate of $35,000 per annum from Term 1 2023.  All current scholarship holders whose stipend is below $35,000 will also receive the increased amount at the same time. The rate will be the second-highest stipend among Group of Eight universities and well above the Department of Education’s standard rate of $29,863 for 2023.

UNSW will further increase the stipend to $37,684 in 2024, which is in line with the current living wage and is expected to be one of, if not the highest, for an Australian university.

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs said HDRs are not only core to the university research ecosystem, but HDR graduates are fundamental to Australia’s whole innovation system. The re-examination of the stipend level was driven by an urgent economic and moral imperative, along with a desire to support this critical community.

“UNSW acknowledges the rising cost of living, especially in Sydney, places considerable pressure on our HDR candidates,” Prof. Brungs said.

“We want to support our candidates and provide them with the opportunity to devote undistracted time and effort to their research so that they can explore, develop, and master long-term projects – then contribute to driving innovation for the benefit of all Australians.”

HDR students vital for Australia's R&D productivity

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise Professor Nick Fisk said PhD candidates are an essential but undercompensated part of UNSW’s research firepower.  

“HDRs contribute to more than half of our research outputs, but around 57% have second jobs, taking them away from their projects and thus Australia’s R&D productivity. As a nation, we must attract and retain the best and brightest students at all levels, and increasing stipends will enable the University to recruit the highest quality PhD applicants.

“With 2 per cent of Australians now holding a PhD, impoverishing stipend rates can no longer be ignored. Indeed, this has become a major international issue, affecting almost all PhD students according to a recent Nature survey. HDRs in the UK recently lobbied UK Research & Innovation to gain a modest increase in stipends. UNSW has gone further, now setting the benchmark for living wage stipends in Australia.”

PhD candidate Nora Campbell says she is happy that UNSW is recognising the important work that postgraduate researchers do.

“I think the stipend increase will make a huge difference to many people as it will help offset the high cost of living in Sydney.

“Scientific research is such an important export for UNSW and for Australia, so this is a great step forward in helping UNSW's postgraduate researchers continue to put out high-quality research that benefits Australia and the world.”

Increasing the stipend dovetails with the University’s commitment to increasing scholarship and financial support for coursework students. In August, UNSW announced an expansion of its Gateway Equity Program, increasing the access rate to 25 per cent over the next five years for first-year students from underrepresented schools and backgrounds.

“The social and economic successes of the individual, the community and the country are built on the transformative power of education,” Prof. Brungs said.

“We want to ensure that anyone, from any background, can consider doing an undergraduate or higher degree research at UNSW.”

HDR candidates are predominantly those studying for Doctor of Philosophy degrees, but also those undertaking Professional Doctorate, Master's by Research and Master of Philosophy higher degree research programs.