KIERAN GILBERT: Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson, thanks for joining us from Washington D.C. What’s your message to your colleagues that you’re going to be meeting there in the United States this week? I know your focus is on the AUKUS agreement, but there’s a range of technologies needed, isn’t there, not just for the nuclear submarine deal?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Absolutely. It’s workforce, workforce, workforce, Kieran. It’s not just nuclear physicists we need, although we do need some of those and it’s a very specialist profession. Almost every area of human endeavor we need a capacity uplift in, so engineers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, pretty much everyone. It’s really important that we get this absolutely right, and get it right for the country, but do it in collaboration with our colleagues from the US and the UK. That’s what we are in Washington this week to discuss.
KIERAN GILBERT: What sort of steps would you like to see our higher education sector achieve? What sort of collaboration are you looking for?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We’ve already got 10,000 research collaboration links with colleagues all around the world. This is how universities grapple with the really big problems, the really big upticks in capacity and knowledge. We want more collaborations. We want closer collaboration with our UK and US colleagues on the challenges of AUKUS because they’re not small. There are simply not enough skilled, highly educated workers just to deal with the AUKUS workforce, the 20,000 people we’ll need in Australia. It’s fundamental that we collaborate with our colleagues, we learn from each other, we educate each other, rather than just stealing each other’s skilled workers.
KIERAN GILBERT: Catriona, it’s one of the biggest challenges for our nation. In an industrial sense, it’s one of the biggest industrial challenges we face, or have faced in our history, but the upside is also enormous here, isn’t it, with the submarines, the technology associated with that, but also that second phase of the AUKUS agreement through quantum and other technologies? The upside here is potentially enormous as well.
CATRIONA JACKSON: This is one of the biggest industrial challenges, but also opportunities we’ve had, Kieran. You’re right, it’s not just about subs, it’s about a whole range of technology and about Australia being right there in the game with really important colleagues from around the world. This is why universities are talking very closely to each other in meetings this week, but also why we’ve been working hand-in-glove on these really serious issues. And it’s not just AUKUS. Almost every serious challenge we face, from energy transition to water quality to almost everything, is something we can do better, bigger and with more capacity and more speed if we take full advantage of our universities here and with our collaborators overseas.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’re meeting your university counterparts, I know that’s happening, you’re also going to meet the State Department, US State Department officials and others. What are you hoping to achieve? What’s your message to them?
CATRIONA JACKSON: The message for the colleagues in both the security industry here and government here is actually a really optimistic one. In Australia, we’ve managed to design a good scheme for dealing with the hugely complex issues of foreign interference and research collaboration. We’ve got to balance those two things, try and prevent as much foreign interference as we can, but preserve the fundamental openness of international research. All those problems and challenges we were talking about, you can’t solve them without the big research groups spanning national boundaries. You’ve got to preserve that openness at the same time as looking after national security. We’ve got something called the University Foreign Interference Taskforce – a genuine partnership with government at very high levels. Our colleagues here in Washington, but also in the UK, in Germany, in a whole bunch of countries around the world, are really keen to talk to us about how we brokered that deal, that arrangement, that partnership, because they want to do something similar.
KIERAN GILBERT: While I’ve got you, I know that you’ve made a submission to the government about university funding in the lead up to Jim Chalmers’ second budget. In a nutshell, you’re saying that the former government’s changes to try and prioritise some university courses in areas has been counterproductive essentially for resourcing of universities. Can you explain that to our viewers this afternoon?
CATRIONA JACKSON: In two senses, Kieran. Trying to get students to study things by changing the way the fee structures work is just clearly ineffective. Because we have the Australian homegrown invention of HECS, the income contingent loan scheme, you don’t pay up front, you pay later when you earn money. Trying to give students at 17 and 18 years old a price signal to change their mind from studying, so if they want to do nursing, encouraging them to do architecture, if they want to do journalism, trying to get them to go into classics. Students have a whole bunch of motivating reasons for doing what they do at university – skill, talent, passion, enthusiasm. Price signals from a loan they pay later when they’re earning money is just really small on that bunch of motivating factors. We don’t think the scheme, as introduced under the former government, works. We also think there are some other fundamental problems. It also doesn’t assist universities. At the moment, we have before us a real opportunity to get to grips with some of the lumpy, inefficient, not good for anyone bits of policy that have just sort of piled up over the time. We very much appreciate the Accord review being undertaken by Mary O’Kane at the instigation of Education Minister Jason Clare. It’s a real opportunity to really set things straight, make sure we’ve got the resourcing and the upping of capacity absolutely right so we can make sure we’ve got all those knowledge-filled graduates to do the big jobs, which will make sure Australia’s in a great position for the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson joining me from Washington. Appreciate your time. Thanks.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Pleasure.