JAYNIE SEAL: Australian universities are going to be a key player when it comes to educating the workforce required for Australia’s nuclear submarine deal in partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom. Joining me live is Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson. Catriona, thank you so much for joining us here. Historic announcement, as we know with the AUKUS agreement, and we’re hearing that we’re going to be looking at around 20,000 jobs expected under this plan. Certainly, a lot requiring university degrees and the like. What are your thoughts on this? What kind of degrees are we looking at here?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Jaynie, this is a really big deal. It’s a very significant industrial transformation for this country and for our partners. Huge amounts of work to do and we really need to up our capacity. It’s not just about nuclear physics and engineering, although they’re fundamentally important, we need really highly educated workers across a really wide scope. If you think about defence as sort of a microcosm of the whole society, we need more people working in defense, in psychology, dentistry, everything. This is a really big step up for the country and universities are fundamental to that. We’ll be stepping up with our people.
JAYNIE SEAL: Alright. Yes, a lot of work to be done and as you said, it’s a huge announcement and lots of jobs in a wide area and diverse range of qualifications and so forth. But let’s head to the nuclear part because that’s certainly something front of mind for many people. Have we got many degrees at the moment across the country that you can be a nuclear engineer, for example?
CATRIONA JACKSON: There are some, probably not quite enough, but there are some. We’re certainly going to need to beef up the ones that exist across a handful of universities and we’ll need some assistance from government with that. We’ve been talking to government in relation to this deal, which has been on the cards, being foreshadowed, being announced partially for some years now. Those conversations have been taking place. I understand the government really understands the fundamental role those highly skilled individuals will play, and they’ll be central in making sure we can make a really good go of this. We’ll need some assistance, but I’m confident the government understands that. Conveniently, there’s a big review of all the policy settings for universities at the moment and considerations of the fact that we’ll simply need some flexibility. We’re in a capped environment for university places at the moment. We’re going to need some flexibility inside that cap or outside that cap, indeed. I understand that the government understands that and will work with us to make sure we can really put our best foot forward.
JAYNIE SEAL: And Catriona, we’ve got the amount of potential jobs required. What about lecturers? How are we going there in terms of what lecturers can do to teach the upcoming students?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Given the span and the scope of this, it’s not just a one, two, three-year thing, it’s over decades, we’re going to need to scale up both in terms of our capacity, both in people who are teaching and people who are going through university. For those people who are in university now, we’ll need some additional grunt, but also people who are thinking about studying in any of these areas, entering a career in defence or security, we’ll need to think about high school and talking to them through high school. As the South Australian Premier pointed out yesterday, the length of time we’re talking here, there’s a job of work to do with primary school and high school students, just making sure they understand there are terrific, fruitful careers related to this announcement.
JAYNIE SEAL: It’s certainly forever changing, isn’t it? Not only in this sort of industry, but looking at how jobs and careers have changed over the years, it’s extraordinary to try and think that far ahead. I guess positive for many people who are interested in this particular type of industry. What has the feedback been from the universities across the board?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Unbounded enthusiasm, keen to just get on with the job, very keen to see fruitful futures for so many of our graduates. In South Australia, universities work with defence all the time. Universities all across the country are familiar with the sorts of requirements, but we’re looking for a really clear signal but we’re also looking for some government support. I think there’s a sense of big new horizons and excitement in that universities understand that it’s fundamental that the highly skilled individuals are supplied for this. Let’s not pretend this is going to be simple. There’s enormous international competition for the sorts of individuals we’re talking about. This is a big job of work for us, a big job of working in partnership with our partners, not just competing with them over the highly skilled individuals who everybody wants – public sector, private sector, overseas, here. We are going to have to work really hard to make sure we’ve got the cream of the crop. Many of them will come from Australia, some of them will come from overseas, but this is a big job of work. We’re absolutely up for it.
JAYNIE SEAL: A big job, as you mentioned, an important one as well. We look forward to hearing more. Thank you so much for your time, Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Pleasure.