ATN unis join with Ai Group to push for a new Skills Forum

3 June 2022

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Tim Dodd

With the federal election looming, universities are aligning themselves to take advantage of political opportunities in an environment in which higher education is not top of mind.

Hoping to influence the next government, the six technology universities on Wednesday will call for a new tripartite Skills Forum – a partnership between industry, universities and government – to solve the national skills crisis. In a joint statement, the Australian Technology Network of Universities and employer body Australian Industry Group will call for a coherent skills strategy to “plug urgent and persistent skills gaps in the economy”.

In a nod to universities’ need to restore the international student market. the statement also says skills must come from “a balanced and fair pipeline of domestic and international workers”.

“This must be supported by reforming post-school education so that universities can flexibly meet emerging and priority skills need through the innovative and adaptive ways our universities are pioneering,” the joint statement will say.

Deakin University vice-chancellor and ATN chairman Iain Martin said the proposed three-way partnership would be “a crucial part of the integration of international education, and delivering better outcomes for industry, students and the economy”.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said it was critical to create stronger connections between industry, universities and the government. “With strong growth prospects for many sectors of the economy we need to act now to ensure that current skill shortages do not derail that relatively positive outlook,” he said.

The joint statement is linked to the strategy of some university groupings to embed the things that universities can offer government – such as skills creation and critical research in national priority areas – into public debate during the election campaign.

In a related development the Group of Eight universities are pushing for bipartisan agreement before the election for a review of one of the government’s principal research funding agencies, the Australian Research Council.

This week a Senate committee report included recommendations from the government, the opposition and the Greens for a review of the ARC, which allocates more than $800m annually to research.

Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said the report vindicated the research-intensive universities’ concerns about the ARC and research funding more broadly. “The ARC’s governance arrangements have proven to be inadequate and do not reflect the best practice of international funding agencies,” she said.

“Anything less than a full review of the ARC, its legislation and of research funding more broadly is tinkering at the edges and the Go8 is seeking a commitment from both government and the opposition to support the committee recommendation.”