Research job losses impact Australia’s long-term economy

July 17 2020

Recent news of job losses in the university sector reinforces the findings of the Rapid Research Information Forum’s report of the severe impacts that COVID-19 will have on Australia’s research workforce.

Released on 12 May this year, the report led by the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) foreshadowed 21,000 FTE job losses in the university sector of which up to 7,000 are research-related jobs.

ATSE Chief Executive Officer, Kylie Walker said the losses will impact on research and innovation both at universities and in the private sector, given that universities perform approximately 43% of all applied research in Australia.

“The impact of these job losses in research extend beyond the immediate future and will have a severe impact on Australia’s aspirations to be a world-leading innovation nation,” said Ms Walker.

“Such a decline in innovation will limit economic growth by slowing the development of new technology, skills, and efficiency gains in service and production processes.

“It’s particularly concerning that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates will disproportionately experience negative impacts.”

Job losses in Australia’s research workforce are attributed to a number of factors, including the reduction of international student fees and business research spending.

“International students are also crucial to the research ecosystem – and many of them are currently unable to continue to contribute and work in this sector due to travel restrictions,” Ms Walker said.

“It is not a simple case of researchers picking up their work where they left off, many will need to start again from scratch, or will never be able to resume after this extended break.”

The report was produced by the Rapid Research Information Forum, a group of 35 research sector lead organisations. The forum is chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, and its operations are led by the Australian Academy of Science.

The rapid research brief responds to a request for advice from the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission on what impact the pandemic is having and likely to have on Australia’s research workforce, and whether we will have the research workforce capability to support our recovery efforts.

The report synthesises the evidence base on this matter, has been informed by relevant experts and has been peer reviewed. Details of the report’s contributors can be found in the report’s appendix.