LAURA JAYES: Australian university students could be key to delivering nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS deal. Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson is in Washington, D.C. at the moment for high level talks on how universities can help with the security partnership between Australia, the US and the UK. Catriona, good to see you. Who have you met with, and are we punching above our weight as always?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Look I hope so, but actually AUKUS is quite a big challenge for Australia. It’s a huge deal. We’ve got 20,000 skilled workers we need to find. The government understands that universities are fundamental to supplying those. Most of those will need a university degree. We need to talk very closely, and we are here in Washington today and over the next week with our colleagues, to make sure we can produce those skilled graduates so we can make AUKUS an absolute winner.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, so what does need to happen and how would Australian universities partner with universities in the UK and the US?
CATRIONA JACKSON: There’s just some expertise we just don’t have yet, Laura. We’ll need to work very closely with our colleagues in the US and the UK to make sure we’ve got the right kind of expertise, both in students who’ll be doing the work, but also in lecturers who’ll be teaching them how to do the work.
This is a long-term deal and it’s not just nuclear physics, it’s a whole lot of disciplines we’ll need a bit of extra grunt in – from doctors and nurses in defence to psychologists and logistic planners. A whole bunch of different disciplines in which we’ll need more people with a higher level of education.
It’s a job for collaboration. Skill shortages are hitting everyone – the US, the UK and us. We just don’t quite have the people we need for this deal. Doing it in collaboration with our colleagues in the AUKUS deal is just the smart way to go.
LAURA JAYES: Certainly. So where are we really lacking, if you want to be quite frank and honest with us this morning?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Well, Laura, to be completely honest, it’s actually across a whole range of disciplines. 20,000 people is really quite a lot and most of those will need a university qualification.
As I said, it’s not just in the obvious places. It’s not just in the nuclear physics bit – that maybe needs 50 people. That’s high level and it’s really complex and we’ll need help there as well. But we just need a capacity uplift across a whole bunch of high-tech and quite sophisticated areas.
We’ll need to work really closely, and we are, with our university colleagues, but also government to government connections. We’ve had terrific talks with the UK Government and we are doing that with officials here in Washington this week.
LAURA JAYES: When you talk about these 20,000 skilled, highly skilled people, it sounds like you don’t even really know what is required yet. So, we know that we need high level people when it comes to tech and engineering and things like that, but the specifics, not quite?
CATRIONA JACKSON: We know it’s across a broad range disciplines. We know nuclear physics is up there at the top, small numbers, but highly specialised. We know we need more engineers. We know we’ll need a whole bunch of people across defence. Defence is like a microcosm of society broadly, so it’s not just boots on the ground and nuclear physicists. It’s across a whole range of disciplines.
So, we know it’s broad. Of course more details will be forthcoming, but we need a capacity uplift. We can’t do that by ourselves.
LAURA JAYES: I see you’ve met with Kevin Rudd as well, the newly installed Ambassador there in Washington. Was he helpful?
CATRIONA JACKSON: Indeed, Kevin Rudd was very helpful. He’s very aware of the challenge for Australia and AUKUS, but the enormous opportunities. He’ll be working on our behalf to make sure those connections are absolutely rock solid. It was terrific to see him here in play.
LAURA JAYES: Catriona Jackson, thank you.
CATRIONA JACKSON: Thank you very much, Laura. Great to see you.