Universities Australia provided a submission and appeared at the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation's inquiry into research training and research workforce issues in Australian universities.
Research training is a key activity for Australia's universities. A quality offering of higher degrees by research and postdoctoral fellowships is increasingly vital to the sector's future in a context where large numbers of academic staff are approaching retirement age, and where universities must increasingly compete for the best graduates with attractive government and private sector offerings.
Research training is also a leading driver of innovation and national economic performance. Research students and early career researchers undertake some of the most enterprising work done in Australian universities across a wide range of disciplines, as well as gaining the skills to take on senior positions in the university sector, in research institutes and in public and private sector management.
Australia retains a strong reputation for producing world leading researchers. Australia's scientific output is at an all time high, with Australia ranked 9th in the OECD by number of research publications. Over the past decade, the number of domestic research degree enrolments has increased from 29,331 in 1996 to 40,486 in 2006, while the number of international enrolments has grown even more strongly from 4,049 to 8,981 over the same period.
At the same time, the long-term erosion of public funding for universities has had a significant effect on research training. For example, the increase in the student to staff ratio from 12:1 in 1990 to 20:1 in 2006 has made it much more difficult to offer quality supervision to research degree candidates. Increasingly run down university infrastructure has also made attracting and retaining bright young researchers difficult when our international competitors are rapidly increasing investment in universities. The poor availability and low level of income support for research students has further detracted from research training by forcing research candidates to work long hours in paid employment.
To read the full submission, download the PDF below.