ACDS Response to Job-ready Graduates

The ACDS has made a submission to the HE Reform Package – Job-Ready Graduates.

The ACDS submission calls for a Senate committee to investigate the impact of the Job-ready Graduates package on STEM teaching and research in Australia’s universities.

Response to Job-ready Graduates Package(August 17, 2020)

The Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS), constituted in 1995, represents the executive leadership of Australia’s university science faculties and schools.

We call for a Senate committee to investigate the impact of the Job-ready Graduates package on STEM teaching and research in Australia’s universities. The legislation for the package should not be passed prior to this impact being properly understood and addressed.

The Job-ready Graduates package proposes changes in government and student contributions to cover the costs of teaching Science and Engineering. The impact of this will be a 17.6% net reduction in funds per student.

For many Universities this will result in an immediate and material cut in funds available to deliver STEM teaching. The consequence of this will be significant and permanent damage to the quality of University STEM teaching, the student experience and graduate attributes.

For other universities the baseline cost-of-teaching may be covered, however the proposed changes will destroy their capacity to provide extension experiences that prepare graduates for a successful career and not just for the first job. These include research-informed teaching and research skills training, which are provided by our researchers and research students. and are essential to producing graduates who will ensure that our industries are at the forefront on innovation.

The Job ready package is predicated on teaching and research being separate and unrelated activities. This approach is flawed as teaching and research are intertwined and interdependent. High quality teaching is informed by research, high quality research is informed by teaching, and research is dependent on research training. This is what separates a University education from vocational training and is at the heart of the future success of Australia.

The more significant consequence of these funding cuts, particularly given the simultaneous deficit of income from international students, is a crippling loss in research capacity in Australian Universities.

Indeed, it has been estimated that the gap in funding needed to maintain our current research will be multiple billions of dollars. This funding is essential for fully funding research and research training, and even a brief gap in such support will reverberate for decades as we lose talented staff and students from the sector and therefore lose momentum.

As our Universities undertake more than 40% of applied research and most fundamental research, this circumstance places Australian at significant risk. How can we better prepare for and manage bushfires, mediate the effects of climate change and protect our communities from emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 without fully funded research?

At present research grants cover most of the direct costs of projects, however government support for the indirect costs covers only 30-50% of the actual costs, with the remainder being borne by Universities. These costs include critical infrastructure, equipment, power, IT services, libraries, business operations, student projects, and more.

With no source of funding to cover the indirect costs of research, they are currently subsidized, by necessity, using a proportion of domestic and international student fee income. The return to students is access to world-class research and researchers that enrich their educational experience and prepare them to make significant contributions to the community.

We understand that a Research Sustainability committee has been established to investigate research funding. Its deliberations are not targeted at producing a new funding model any time soon. The gap between implementing this proposal and properly funding research will have immediate impacts on losing highly trained staff and reducing the outcomes and impact of funded research projects. It makes no sense to tear down existing mechanisms for funding research before new ones are put in place. You don’t demolish your home first and then consult an architect about building a new one, unless you have somewhere else to live. No alternative dwelling for research funding has been identified.

We also understand that some of the funds lost will be returned for a National Priorities and Linkage Fund (NPLF) that will deliver $225m per year among 40 or so universities. At less than $6m per year per university that will hardly make up for the research and research translation activity that will be lost.

We urge the government to delay considering this bill until a comprehensive analysis of the impact of these changes in Australian research has been completed and that a plan to sustain this has been developed and implemented.