Thursday, 7 Jul 2011

For immediate release Thursday 7 July 2011

Results from the largest survey of Australian research students ever undertaken show that more than half of all research students in Australia plan to forge a career as an academic. However, the survey findings also reveal that the next wave of Australian academics feels their degree leaves them unprepared for teaching roles within universities.

The National Research Student Survey (NRSS) was conducted in June 2010 across 38 of Australia’s 39 universities and attracted responses from almost 12 000 students currently enrolled in PhD or Masters by Research courses.  The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) worked in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Higher Education to conduct the survey on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Research students surveyed indicated that their degree will be effective in preparing them for academic research and publication, but will not be particularly effective in preparing them for the task of university teaching and the associated planning.

ACER Higher Education Senior Research Fellow Dr Daniel Edwards said this suggests that the 54 per cent of research students who intend to go on to an academic career do not feel their degree prepares them for teaching roles within universities.

Only 14 per cent of all research students surveyed report having participated in teaching training during their research degree. Among those with academic career ambitions, the figure is slightly higher at 16 per cent.

Responses from university graduate education leaders to the supplementary Institutional Survey indicate that training in university teaching is not currently a highly valued commodity in most institutional recruitment processes, and many universities prefer to offer such training once a new graduate has been appointed to an academic position.

Edwards suggests that decisions among research students not to engage in training for university teaching may be based on their recognition of these facts. However, Edwards said that it is important to remember that many research students undertake university teaching work at some period while completing their degree.

More than half (57.2 per cent) of the research students surveyed worked at a university at some point during their degree. Of this group, more than 70 per cent worked in a teaching capacity, such as a lecturer or tutor.

“The findings of this survey provide important opportunities for examining the way that PhD programs are currently administered in Australia,” said Edwards.

The full report, Regenerating the Academic Workforce: The careers, intentions and motivations of higher degree research students in Australia by Daniel Edwards, Emmaline Bexley and Sarah Richardson, is available from 


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Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
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