LISA MILLAR: Well, the university sector says it is ready to meet the surge in demand for a highly trained and skilled workforce as a result of the AUKUS agreement. Catriona Jackson from Universities Australia joins us now. Catriona, good morning. Welcome to News Breakfast.
CATRIONA JACKSON: G’day.
LISA MILLAR: Universities around Australia are going to have to ramp up here. I mean, just exactly who even offers the kinds of training that would be needed for the workforce we’re going to require?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We’re certainly going to have to ramp up. We’ve been talking with government and with partner countries for some months now about this deal and about the sort of capability we’re going to require. Obviously, we’ll need assistance from government, but there are students ready and waiting, and universities are just ready to get into gear.
LISA MILLAR: Well, because the number of graduates at the moment, I would imagine, would be relatively small in comparison to other areas of study.
CATRIONA JACKSON: If you’re just talking about the nuclear physics side, yes, the number of graduates is relatively small and there’s a relatively small number of universities that offer the kind of subjects required. So, we’ve started a conversation and a good conversation with government, and Anthony Albanese has acknowledged this too. Universities play a central role here. We do need to ramp up. We’ll need some policy shifts to be able to ramp up, but it’s not just in nuclear physics. I mean, there are professionals required across almost every endeavor and almost every discipline at numbers for that 8,500 ramp up to begin with, and then the 20,000 additional workers needed over the 20 to 30 years.
LISA MILLAR: The front page of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning writes about a public high school in Sydney offering $20,000 bonuses to have technology teachers sign on. It’s a real challenge, isn’t it? Because if you just don’t have the staff, I mean, that’s a public high school … you were talking about getting people into the universities.
CATRIONA JACKSON: We all know we are facing a very serious skill shortage, and the rest of the world is too. We’ve had discussions with our colleagues in the UK at the highest levels, at ministerial level, about the sort of cooperation that’s required for this. There’s no point going around pretending we can just choose the people off the shelf because we can’t.
Also, we know everyone’s going to be in serious demand. So, we’ve already talked to them about how unconstructive it would be if people just started poaching off everyone else. The private sector needs these people, the public sector needs them, the UK needs them, we need them, and the US needs them. So we are going to enter in to some serious discussions now about cooperation around this. We’ll also be relying on our colleagues in the US and the UK to be helping to train and educate our people because they’ve got experience here to begin with. So a real collaborative effort is required on the training and upskilling, as well as on the actual deal itself.
LISA MILLAR: So, what else do universities right now need? When you talk about policy shifts from the government, what are you talking about?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Luckily, we’re in the middle of a review of education policy. So we’re at the moment existing inside capped numbers. I’m having trouble seeing how we can provide the sorts of numbers and the sorts of scale we need inside a cap, so that’s part of a live discussion under Mary O’Kane’s review of higher education, all the education policy settings.
But also, we’ll need to look at how you fund various parts of universities in terms of disciplines. Nuclear physics is a pretty expensive discipline. As you can imagine, the kit required is fairly expensive. So, we’ll need to make sure we’ve got the right sorts of funding flows to make sure that works properly.
LISA MILLAR: So you’re going to need more money, basically, to ensure that the workforce starts in the universities and ends up being where it needs to be on these programs for the next two, three, four decades?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We’ll just need to make sure that the resources match the requirement for the capability, yes.
LISA MILLAR: Catriona Jackson, it’s going to be so interesting as this debate goes on. Thanks for joining us this morning.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Pleasure, Lisa.