University alliances join in bold bid to end the skills shortage

3 June 2022

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Tim Dodd

Two of Australia’s major university groupings have banded together ahead of the federal election to call on the next government to back tertiary education as a solution to the skills shortage and ­ensure that universities have enough subsidised student places to meet this goal.

In a joint statement, the Australian Technology Network and the Innovative Research Universities – which together represent 14 universities – said nearly a million new people would be needed in the nation’s workforce by 2025 and half of them would require a university education.

“Our challenge to the major parties in this election year is clear: we seek a clear plan for how the next government will work with universities and industry to solve this skills crisis and improve access to university education for Australians across the nation,” their statement said.

Jointly, the ATN and IRU educate 40 per cent of domestic undergraduate students and 44 per cent of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Their statement endorses broad-based tertiary education, with more links between universities and vocational educators as well as closer ties between universities and start-up companies and incubators to create high-value, knowledge-rich jobs.

It also calls on the next federal government to ensure that universities have sufficient subsidised student places to supply local and regional businesses with the skills they need.

Finally, their statement points to the continuing large gap in tertiary education access between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It asks the next government to ensure that “the third of First Nations Australians living in metropolitan areas have the same access to a place in higher education as those living in regional and remote areas”.

For their part, the 14 universities in the ATN and IRU have committed to work closely with government and industry to provide enough student places in skill shortage areas of study, and in ­regions where skills are needed.

They have also said they will ensure that students have the opportunity to work with industry during their studies.

The joint statement is in line with the IRU’s pre-election policy statement, which calls for additional student places for domestic undergraduate students to keep pace with demographic growth and skill needs.

In its policy statement, the IRU also calls for uncapped funding for all Indigenous students and a comprehensive review of the Morrison government’s Job Ready Graduates higher education funding package, which started last year.

The IRU statement also covers research issues, calling for a reversal of the decline in funding for basic research, and a guarantee that funding decisions be protected from political interference.

It also proposes a new innovation and infrastructure fund to help prepare universities for new challenges, such as hybrid education models which incorporate face-to- face and digital learning.