Research support schemes

What's available:

  • Postgraduate Research Support Scheme (PRSS)
    Offered by the University of Sydney and is open to all research students, including international students. The PRSS provides University funding for travel to, attendance at, and participation in conferences around the world. Funding under PRSS can also support your fieldwork or research overseas.
  • Research Training Scheme
    An Australian Government funded scheme open to Australian citizens, permanent residents and New Zealand citizens enrolled in research higher degrees.

Research Training Scheme (RTS) for local students

What is the RTS?

The RTS is a Commonwealth Government funded performance-based scheme that "aims to recognise and reward those institutions that provide high-quality research training environments and support excellent and diverse research activities." See Research Training Scheme (RTS) on the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research website.

It provides funding to universities to support the training of research students, including funding for fee-exempt places for students enrolled in higher degrees by research (HDR).

What does the RTS do for me?

The Research Training Scheme provides an exemption from course fees (Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)) for eligible students who commenced a research higher degree after 31 August 2000. Students who gain such an exemption are said to have an “RTS place”.

It also provides the university with funds to provide adequate resources to support research students. This includes limited amounts of money that are distributed via the Postgraduate Research Support Scheme (PRSS) which can be used for degree-related expenses such as conference participation or thesis production.

It does not provide funding to students for living expenses.

Who is eligible for an RTS place?

Australian citizens, permanent residents and citizens of New Zealand enrolled in an appropriate research higher degree that commenced on or after 1 September 2000 are eligible for an RTS place. Students enrolled prior to 1 September, 2000 may be on a HECS-exempt scholarship (more information on HECS-exempt scholarships below).

An eligible research programme is defined as having "a minimum of two-thirds of its assessable content by research and the assessment process must involve at least one qualified examiner external to the institution" (RTS Guidelines 2004). Students enrolled in undergraduate degrees, postgraduate coursework degrees and higher doctorates are not eligible.

Eligibility is not a guarantee that a student will gain an RTS place. The number of new places offered by an institution will depend on the funds available to the institution based on the enrolments, completions of higher research degrees and research activity of the institution according to a complex formula.

How long does an RTS place last?

An RTS place provides an exemption from HECS fees for a maximum of:

  • 4 years full-time (8 years part-time) for doctoral degrees, which includes the PhD
  • 2 years full-time (4 years part-time) for research masters degrees

After this time the student is no longer exempt from fees, but may be liable to pay fees depending on the policy of the university at which they are enrolled. The University of Sydney’s policy is that such students currently do not pay HECS-level fees for their courses, however this may change in the future.

A student must be enrolled every semester during which they are working towards their degree and must be enrolled to submit their thesis. A student who has not finished after spending the maximum RTS time on their degree, known as having “exhausted their RTS entitlement”, may be required to pay fees in order to complete their degree. However, a student who exhausts their entitlement can choose to discontinue their candidature without finishing their degree.

If I transfer from one research degree to another, what happens to my RTS place?

The RTS entitlement used during one degree is debited from the RTS entitlement of the degree to which the student transfers. For example, if a student has spent 3 semesters full-time in a masters and transfers to a PhD then he/she only has 5 semesters full-time in the PhD before the RTS entitlement is exhausted. Or if a student transfers to a masters after 8 part-time semesters in a PhD then there is no RTS entitlement for the masters as 8 part-time semesters is the maximum for a masters degree, and the student may be required to pay the appropriate fees.

What happens if I transfer between universities during a degree?

If approval has been given for a student to transfer his/her studies to another institution, the RTS entitlement consumed towards the degree at the first institution is debited from the RTS entitlement of the degree in the institution to which the student transfers. So if a student undertakes 1 year part-time in a PhD at institution A and then transfers to institution B then he/she has only 7 years part-time of RTS entitlement for the PhD in institution B. It is the total length of the research degree that is considered.

Transferring students are required to provide a signed statement about their enrolment and consumption of RTS at the previous institution so that their remaining entitlement can be determined.

I discontinued my research degree. Am I eligible for an RTS place if I re-enrol to complete my degree?

Students who have discontinued their studies may be eligible for consideration for a RTS place if they re-enrol in a research higher degree course at a later date. If a student resumes their studies within three years, they will have the period of their prior enrolment deducted from their maximum entitlement under the RTS. If the time between enrolments is greater than three years then the full entitlement may be granted.

I have completed a research higher degree and now want to do another one. Am I eligible for an RTS place?

A student who has completed a masters, whether from overseas or in Australia under the RTS scheme, is eligible for the maximum RTS for the PhD.

A student with a PhD who wishes to enrol in a second PhD is eligible for the maximum RTS for the PhD.

I need to suspend my studies for a period. What happens to my RTS entitlement?

The RTS entitlement is not affected by periods of suspensions totaling a maximum of 12 months. More time away on approved leave would be granted only in exceptional circumstances.

If a student spends some time at another institution while studying for their degree then this is not counted as a suspension. The student must be enrolled during this period away from the University and hence it would be counted towards their RTS.

Questions regarding the HECS-exempt scholarships and RTS

What are the HECS-exempt scholarships?

Before the RTS, universities were allocated scholarships by the Commonwealth Government for eligible postgraduate students that gave them exemption from the HECS fees for that course. Students on these HECS-exempt scholarships generally remain on them until they finish, for example by exhausting their entitlement, submitting their thesis or discontinuing their studies.

How long does a HECS-exempt scholarship last?

A HECS-exempt scholarship provides an exemption from HECS fees for a maximum of:

  • 5 years full-time (or equivalent part-time) for doctoral degrees, which includes the PhD
  • 3 years full-time (or equivalent part-time) for research masters degrees.

Students who exhaust their HECS-exempt scholarships before finishing their studies towards their degree are treated in a similar fashion to those who exhaust their RTS entitlement.

What happens to my HECS-exempt scholarship if I transfer my degree?

A student may transfer his/her degree within an institution with time enrolled in the first degree deducted from the maximum time the scholarship is available in the second degree.

Transferring to another institution, or changes to their enrolment status, may result in the student moving to an RTS place.

What happens if I was on a HECS-exempt scholarship, discontinued but now wish to resume my studies?

A student who resumes at the same level may be offered an RTS place depending on availability. If they resume within three years, the period of their prior enrolment will be deducted from their RTS entitlement. A student who returns at a higher level will not have the prior study deducted from their RTS entitlement if they are offered an RTS place, regardless of the period of time away.

Information about the RTS is available on the Department of Industry website.