The Gillard government is investing an additional $97 million to boost the number of Commonwealth-supported university placements, but ICT won’t see much benefit from it, according to tertiary education spokespeople.
In this year’s budget an extra 1650 university placements per year will be made for sub-bachelor and postgraduate training in teaching, nursing and Asian languages.
Tertiary Education Minister Craig Emerson said in a statement that there is a “surge in demand” for these areas of study, which will see 30,000 university enrolments in 2014 compared with this year.
Associate Professor Mihai Lazarescu, head of department of computing at Curtin University, told CIO Australia that the amount of money the government is investing in universities is “pathetic”, saying that the government has already made huge cuts to tertiary education.
“Also, ICT is put at the bottom of the list, that’s the reality. If they look at ICT and they want to encourage people to go into the area, then they have to make a concerted effort.
“You either import people who have the skills and that’s going to cost a huge amount of money or you try to educate your own. If you want to educate your own, and some point in time you have to do it, you have to put in money in mathematics and computing.”
Vicki Thomson, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of Universities, agreed, saying that the government hasn’t properly addressed the ICT skills shortage issue by backing universities and the industry to encourage more ICT enrolments.
“How do universities or how do you as an ICT sector encourage students to come in and [study] ICT when you’re not supported by a well-funded strategy? That’s what we don’t have. It’s a missed opportunity in a sense… it’s a lost opportunity,” Thomson said.
Thomson said that she doesn’t believe a Coalition government would place ICT as a high investment priority either when it comes to boosting university enrolments.
“Frankly, I don’t think there’s any greater light at the end of the tunnel should a Coalition win at the end of September.
“On both sides, the problem that they have got that they will tell you is they have a diminishing pot of funding. There’s certainly no indication that the Coalition will look at that any differently than what the government has done.”
The budget is also offering an extra $186 million in research infrastructure. Thomson said this was a “band-aid measure” as it only offers funding for a two-year period which means there’s no long term planning.
Lazarescu said half of the extra funding will likely go on unnecessary bureaucratic processes, leaving less money for researchers and less time to complete their projects.
“The money that gets put into the research field has to reach the people, not the bureaucrats,” he said.
“For people who work in research the reality is that they are treated in the worst possible form. They rarely get contracts more than one year long and seriously if you want to get a project off the ground you can’t produce miracles in one year, you need more than that.
“That’s where the money should be going, to fund people for five years.”
Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett
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