Submission from the University of Western Australia (UWA

Professor Robyn Owens
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
The University of Western Australia (M460)
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009
+61 8 6488 2460
+61 8 6488 1013
[email protected]
Research Funding and Policy Branch Research Division Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research GPO Box 9839 CANBERRA, ACT 2601 Submission from the University of Western Australia (UWA) – Research Workforce Strategy Consultation Paper The University of Western Australia congratulates the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and the Research Workforce Strategy Reference Group for this important and timely consultation paper. Before providing specific feedback, I would like to raise the issue of the definition of “research workforce”. There is a proportion of the research workforce in private industry or government for which a higher degree by research is not required, nor would those employees have the skills to work in higher education. The application of such a broad definition of ‘researchers’ may therefore affect the efficacy of the government’s research workforce strategy. The strategy does include gaining a better understanding of the workforce, but the action relating to that goal is for some reason only planned for the ‘medium term’ (2014‐2016). There is a danger that plans for the broad and somewhat amorphous ‘research workforce’ could have unintended consequences for the academic research workforce. UWA's specific responses to the nine questions posed in the consultation paper are as follows: Q1: Do the issues identified adequately capture the challenges facing Australia in adapting to the changing nature of employer demand and meeting its innovation aspirations over the next decade? If not, what other challenges should be considered? Yes, the paper has done an excellent job of identifying the challenges facing Australia. Q2: Do the issues identified adequately capture the opportunities available to Australia to better respond to the changing nature of employer demand in Australia and meet national innovation aspirations? If not, what other opportunities should be considered? The paper identifies most of the major opportunities. However, there are two other opportunities that should be included. The first is coordination between Commonwealth and State Governments in building and maintaining the national research workforce. Currently Queensland, Victorian and the South Australian State Governments consistently invest in research capacity building with investments to attract Cooperative Research Centres, Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence and other Commonwealth‐funded centres and schemes. Other States, particularly Western Australia and New South Wales are more hit and miss in their strategies. Better coordination between Commonwealth and States and among States would optimise opportunities for research workforce growth. In addition, all Australian State Governments support extensive research workforces in primary industries, minerals and energy, fisheries, biodiversity conservation and cultural industries. This is an opportunity if well managed. Although implicit in many parts of the document addressing opportunities, the importance of international research linkage funding (Fulbright Scheme, Australia‐China Fund, Australia‐India Fund etc) needs to be made more explicit. A greater investment in such schemes will facilitate opportunities to attract the best young researchers to Australia and to cement links with major research institutions overseas. A new 'Colombo'‐type plan built for the 21st Century could play a very important role in further cementing ties with a booming south‐east Asia and attract more PhD students to study in Australia. Q3: Do the issues identified adequately capture the challenges facing Australia in delivering required levels of research skills to its workforce over the next decade? If not, what other challenges should be considered? The paper does an excellent job of identifying the challenges. A challenge identified but not explored in detail is that of attracting domestic students into a research career given the current APA stipend. The scale of the problem of leakage is shown with respect to earth sciences, but given that domestic demand for research places is essentially flat despite growth in the numbers of students graduating from Bachelors degrees, this leakage is probably more general. The paper suggests allowing some flexibility in stipends by providing top‐ups from the APA budget in areas of identified need/shortage, and suggests allowing scholarships for part‐time enrolment (a demand driven in part by students’ need to supplement stipends), but it does not explicitly recommend an increase in the level of the APA stipend across the board (or an increase in the APA funding pool to meet this). The paper mentions the importance of international higher degree by research (HDR) students completing and staying on in Australia once qualified, and the migration of research‐qualified individuals. It recognises the importance of the various visas which affect the research workforce; the 485 Skilled Graduate, 419 Visiting Academic and 457 Business – employer sponsored. However recent developments with the 485 visas are a concern because it seems that those recent graduates who do not fit the Skilled Occupation List (SOL) may find it more difficult to remain in the country. Further, recent changes to the 419 visa appear to make the process more onerous for visiting academics. There is a need for DIISR to communicate well with DIMA over visa issues. Q4: Do the issues identified adequately capture the opportunities available to Australia to enhance its supply of research skills over the next decade? If not, what other opportunities should be considered? The paper provides a good summary of the opportunities. Since the focus of the paper is on increasing the supply of skilled researchers in the Australian workforce, international engagement in this context is mainly understood to involve the recruitment of international students into Australian degree programs, with a view to a proportion of those students eventually gaining permanent residency and joining the Australian workforce. Less direct opportunities may exist in collaborative research training programs which link with institutions outside Australia. Given the international mobility of academic staff, stronger connections with the global research community would only enhance understanding of the opportunities to be found in Australia and may encourage more researchers to choose to visit or to move here for periods of time. A larger pool of temporary academic visitors will add to the research skills available in Australia at any point in time. Providing more flexible and efficient arrangements for medium term visas (six to 12 months, e.g., to fit normal sabbatical arrangements) would facilitate this. Q5: Do the issues identified adequately capture the challenges facing Australia in providing productive and viable career paths to its researchers over the next decade and promoting them adequately? If not, what other challenges should be considered? Yes, the paper does a good job in this area. The Commonwealth could also examine opportunities for researchers to better integrate and work on industry research opportunities whilst in academe. Schemes such as Enterprise Connect need to be continually reviewed and improved to help those researchers wishing to or interested to make the transition to industry from the university sector. Q6: Do the issues identified adequately capture the opportunities available to Australia to better support researchers at the different stages of their careers over the next decade? If not, what other opportunities should be considered? A most encouraging initiative raised in “Meeting Australia’s research workforce needs” is the expansion of grant schemes such as the NHMRC to a wider disciplinary base and more extended timeframes (up to 10 years duration, from the existing 5 years). This, along with already announced plans to fully fund research projects, would enable the University to offer far more certain career paths for researchers. It is also encouraging to see the reference (5.324) to merit relative to opportunity, and the acknowledgement of career breaks as an impediment to career progression. This is particularly true of researchers in universities, given the fact that lack of recent research activity affects competitiveness in attracting grants and can become a self reinforcing disadvantage. The suggested strategies to re‐integrate researchers who are returning from extended time away from active research (due to absence from the workforce or just from academia) are a very positive move. However the issue of merit relative to opportunity is more broad than just career breaks. It should also apply to any situation where the circumstances of the employee have restricted their ability to accrue merit within the traditional lineal academic career path, such as part time employees or those with particular caring responsibilities or disabilities. In the context of university researchers, there is also a need for better understanding of what is required in industrial research and in business in general. So, training development schemes should be considered. This should included aspects of the importance of intellectual property in both research environments and how such intellectual property is best exploited. Q7: Are the priority areas for action outlined in Table 1 the right ones? What other priorities should be identified? Table 1 outlines most of the priority areas for action. To them could be added the following further priorities: • A significant increase in the number of junior and senior fellowships offered by the Australian Research Council and the NH&MRC. The Future Fellowship Scheme has provided a quantum leap in the number of opportunities for mid‐career researchers and this scheme in particular should be extended beyond its current life. • Linked to the above is the issue of the ever increasing gap between the funds provided for ARC and NH&MRC fellows and university salaries for that level of appointment. It is no longer viable •
for the funding agencies to argue that it is the universities responsibility to pay this gap. The reason that the universities pay scales increase is to make academic positions attractive to the research workforce. The agencies need to do their part. Much larger stipends for APAs. Entry‐level salaries for graduates into many industries are now much more than twice that of an APA stipend. In order to keep the best graduates at university to complete a PhD in the future will require a doubling of the size of APAs. The role of State Governments needs to be included in Table 1. The ARC should consider a new range of explicit ARC‐Industry Fellowships operating the same way as the APDs, QEIIs and APFs. There needs to be a focus by Government and universities on professional development schemes for early career researchers to keep them in Australia Q8: Does the allocation of responsibilities for priority areas and actions outlined in Table 1 adequately capture the roles of all parties? Are there any issues relating to the allocation of responsibilities that need to be considered? Yes, but one thing missing is the coordination across Government (Commonwealth and States), universities and business. How this will be done needs to be an explicit priority with appropriate actions. Q9: Are the timeframes outlined in Table 1 appropriate? Are there any priority areas that require more immediate or longer‐term action? It is surprising that some of the medium term actions (2014 to 2016) are not short term actions. For instance, one of the most critical factors identified by the University in addressing the supply of researchers is that of the universities being able to offer a long term career. Therefore, it would be useful if the actions described in points 3 (a) and 3 (b) which specifically address the career issues of researchers, were implemented sooner. The following particular areas are of immediate concern: • Although Table 1 does have ‘the impact of migration policies on the research workforce and opportunities for improvement’ as an immediate priority, given the debate during the current election campaign regarding limiting immigration, it is imperative that future governments work quickly to differentiate HDR training and research workforce management from the broader range if immigration issues. • Some immediate attention to growing the number of IPRS scholarships and the conversion of APAs to IPRS is required. The Go8 universities receive far more excellent quality international applications for PhD places than they have scholarships to support. This is an opportunity that should not be let slide through lack of appropriate scholarships. Professor Robyn Owens Deputy Vice‐Chancellor (Research) 9 August 2010