Manufacturing plan omits HE priorities

Anthony Albanese went the full-Chifley in a speech last week, announcing the Government, “is investing in manufacturing to make more things here.”

“In this time of transformative opportunity, our Government will not be an observer or a spectator – we will be a participant, a partner, an investor and enabler,” the Prime Minister added.

Higher education lobbies saw an opportunity in the PM’s speech – and so there is, just not necessarily the one they want.

What this means: Mr Albanese did not bother his audience with details, presumably they will be in the Future Made in Australia Act, to come. But what it will mean for post compulsory education and training is emerging – with Jobs and Skills Australia already oversighting training and the prospect of the anticipated tertiary education commission to interact with HE providers for the Government.

As skills and training minister Brendan O’Connor put it in a recent speech, “coordinated workforce development is one of the priority actions for government.”

However, Mr Albanese’s reference to commercialising “opportunities arising from Australian innovation” was enough for research lobbies to climb aboard the yet-unbuilt bandwagon.

What research lobbies hope they heard: “Universities will play a major role in powering the development and growth of new industries, technologies and jobs,” Universities Australia announced – adding that to make it happen the government should commit to reforms in the Universities Accord.

“This can be a significant turning point for Australia and for Australian innovation, industry and manufacturing,” announced Cooperative Research Australia (which represents CRCs).

Science and Technology Australia (which bills itself as “Australia’s peak body for scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians” is keen. “All sectors of the economy must do their part – and government can lead by investing in research and creating the policy framework to pull all the threads together effectively.” In particular STA calls for 3 per cent of GDP to go research and development.

As does the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, which “looks forward to working with the Australian Government as this plan is developed and implemented.” Increasing GDP to 3 per cent of GDP would help, ATSE asserts.

And the government will breathe easier knowing, CQU’s Centre for Hydrogen and Renewable Energies, “stands ready to support the establishment and growth of new industries.”

What they will more likely get: One way or another, there has to be an opportunity for universities adaptable enough to team-up with entrepreneurs in the PM’s preferred industries of opportunity, he mentioned “clean energy” on Thursday.  It could be more money for applied research, although if the $15bn National Reconstruction Fund is a precedent, perhaps not. Universities have no representative on its Board and grants are explicitly excluded from what it will fund.

Or it could be funding tied to course articulation from TAFE to universities to produce workers with skills the government thinks will be, or should be, in demand. Think the 4000 Commonwealth funded university places for “nuclear submarine student pathways” writ large. And the new $1m max Nuclear Safeguards Student Qualification Programme, “for the purpose of designing and implementing a structured academic pathway that will provide post-graduate students with a qualification in nuclear safeguards.”

Whatever form new funding takes, it will be tied to government objectives.



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