Monday, 16 Jan 2012

16 January 2012: The higher education sector must focus on creating roles for early career academics and retaining research graduates or it risks impeding Australia’s ability to meet its university attainment targets, according to an Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) research review paper.

In the seventh research briefing for the Joining the Dots series, ‘Where are the academics of tomorrow? Supply and demand issues for Australian universities’, ACER Senior Research Fellow Dr Daniel Edwards explored how the academic workforce is placed to cope with the forecast rise in student numbers that will result if university attainment targets are to be met.

“A viable and engaged academic workforce is vitally important if the expansion of the higher education system is to be a success,” said Dr Edwards.

Dr Edwards’ research suggests that, in some fields, the supply of academics will not be great enough to meet demand. Dr Edwards said large numbers of research graduates are building careers outside of the Australian higher education sector, reflecting findings from the 2010 National Research Student Survey (NRSS) that show there is a perception among current research students that positions in universities are not widely available.

It is estimated that there are around 19 000 current research students in Australia under the age of 40 with serious career plans to join the academic profession over the coming decade. However, the NRSS revealed that more than 43 per cent of these research students plan to pursue this profession outside Australia. This reduces the estimated supply of academics to Australian universities to about 11 000.

Recent findings from an Australian survey of academics indicate that 48 per cent of the current academic workforce, or over 50 000 academics, intend to retire, move to an overseas university, or leave Australian higher education at some time in the next ten years, indicating there may be growth in the availability of academic positions in the medium term.

“Greater emphasis on highlighting the availability of positions is one of the ways the sector can help to ensure there are enough academics to meet future needs,” said Dr Edwards.

Dr Edwards said the good news is the NRSS found research students have a positive impression of the academic career, rating it more attractive than other careers on a wide range of factors including interest and challenge, flexibility, work/life balance and job satisfaction.

“No matter how attractive an occupation may be, if a student believes there are no positions available then the chance they will pursue this line of work is likely to be greatly diminished,” said Dr Edwards.

Joining the Dots is a subscription-based resource provided by ACER to those with an interest in Australian Higher Education. Details for the 2012 series can be found at www.acer.edu.au/jtd or by emailing: jtd@acer.edu.au

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