The Federal Government has released its Research Workforce Strategy, Research Skills for an Innovative Future, setting out a range of challenges, aspirations and priorities to improve the outcomes of research and research training for innovation in Australia.


The Strategy proposes a range of reviews and reforms of current systems, but little in the way of new initiatives and no new funding.


The document sets out the importance of a culture of innovation in lifting Australia’s economic productivity to OECD standards and the need for more people with research and technical skills to achieve that. It echoes many of the issues that have been canvassed in policy statements on innovation dating back to Senator Peter Cook’s Innovation Statement of 1994 and the Coalition Government’s National Innovation Summit of 2000, giving a more defined focus to the role of researchers in the innovation system.


Five areas were identified as needing attention over the coming decade:


  • Meeting anticipated demand for research skills in the workforce;
  • Strengthening the quality of supply through the research training system by improving
  • the standard and relevance of research training programs;
  • Enhancing the attractiveness of research careers;
  • Facilitating research workforce mobility; and
  • Increasing participation in the research workforce.


Issues in maintaining  the research force included age-related retirements; employment growth in relevant sectors; increased demand for high-level research skills across the economy; and a stalling in domestic student uptake of research degrees.


The document highlighted the projected increase in demand for research skills, with employment of doctorates expected to rise by 3.2% per annum to 2020. This is against the background of a stalling in the number of commencements of PhDs by research and a decline in completions. Australia relies heavily on international sources to replenish its research workforce, with just under half of the doctorate qualified population in 2006 born overseas.


Amongst the priorities identified in the strategy were:

  • new processes to improve national research skills planning capacity - working collaboratively with research employer groups, professional societies and research training providers over 2011 and 2012 to identify and map priority research skills needed within individual disciplines and industry sectors over the short, medium and long  terms;

  • increased flexibility within Commonwealth postgraduate research scholarship programs for higher education providers to provide additional financial incentives to attract high quality students in demand areas - the Government will provide additional flexibility for scholarship top-ups from within the existing APA grant to institutions in agreed priority areas;
  • Expansion, over time, of Government research training awards available to high quality international students - access to APA scholarships on a competitive basis to recipients of International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) awards from 2011;

  • review this year of the Government’s primary research training support program, the RTS, to be undertaken by DIISR;

  • examination of the cost of research training provision in Australian universities, currently under way and to be completed by mid-2011;

  • development of new models for research training that explicitly focus on the professional employment needs of graduates – planned to commence in second half of 2011;

  • establishment and monitoring of research standards and quality benchmarks for research training;

  • establishment of a web-based communication platform to promote research career opportunities and support in Australia;

  • review of the balance of support within the existing suite of Government research fellowships to ensure that researchers are adequately supported at all stages of their research careers.

  • increased opportunities for early career researchers (0-5 years post PhD) within the ARC Discovery Scheme. Under the revised Discovery Program, to take effect in 2011 for funding commencing in 2012, ECRs will have access to a separate, flexible award in addition to the Discovery Projects scheme. These changes need to be complemented by more tailored support within universities and other research organizations;

  • improved processes to remove impediments to individuals returning to the research workforce following a career break;

  • investigation of metrics for measuring excellence in applied research and innovation;

  • Removal of impediments within research training support programs for part-time HDR candidature;

  • establishment of strengthened oversight arrangements for Australia’s research workforce - a research workforce strategy advisory group will be established through DIISR, comprising representatives from key research employer groups (public and private), professional associations, unions, student bodies and commonwealth and state and territory governments.

  • Improved national data collection practices in relation to Australia’s research workforce.


The Research Workforce Strategy is available HERE.