STEM support welcomed, but caution advised on uni fee changes

June 19 2020

Investments in training a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-ready Australian workforce and better connecting Australian industry with the tertiary research sector were today welcomed by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

Proposed changes announced today by Education Minister Dan Tehan would cut costs to students by 20 per cent for applied science, IT and engineering degrees, and support industry internships for graduates.

“The Academy of Technology and Engineering has long advocated for measures to improve access to tertiary STEM degrees, and career pathways for graduates with these skills,” ATSE President Professor Hugh Bradlow said.

“We firmly believe that investing in a STEM-qualified workforce is necessary to put Australia on competitive footing internationally, and to build Australia’s capacity to respond and prepare for major challenges such as extreme weather and pandemics.

“ATSE also welcomes the announcement of a $900 million National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund. ATSE has advocated strongly for the establishment of such a fund and would be pleased to support the Government to develop performance metrics.”

Other positive measures were an intention to build tertiary education capacity in regional areas, and an intention to support all regionally-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to attend university.

“We applaud the commitment to university education for Indigenous students, and encourage the government to extend this commitment to Indigenous students from any part of Australia.

“ATSE further urges the Government and the tertiary sector to work together towards achieving gender balance in STEM degrees – opening up more places in engineering or IT presents an opportunity to address the dearth of women in these professions.

“Diversity is a key driver of innovation and has been consistently linked to improved organisational performance. Increasing the equitable inclusion of women and Indigenous Australians in STEM will have broad economic and social benefits.

Professor Bradlow said ATSE was keen to see the detail of how the measures are proposed to be applied, in particular to examine potential negative effects on inter-disciplinary approaches.

“Support for teaching and research across the breadth of tertiary disciplines including the arts and humanities, is important to create a rounded and balanced workforce capable of the inter-disciplinary approach to problem-solving necessary for a thriving 21st century  economy,” he said.

Australia’s future graduates will be crucial members of teams solving challenging multi-disciplinary societal, health, infrastructure, economic and environmental problems, Professor Bradlow said.

“Tertiary education must satisfy the increasing demand for enterprise skills in graduates, including creativity, critical thinking and leadership, to prepare them for increasingly complex contexts of application and practice.”