Over recent years Ai Group has worked closely with the Australian Council of Graduate Research (ACGR) including to develop guidelines to support the breadth of ways industries can partner with graduate research candidates. The relationships established through graduate research engagements enable closer, mutually beneficial connections between industry and universities at a time when the pace of change in industry is requiring new approaches to education and training. Industry recognises that research candidates can apply specialised cognitive, technical and research skills to provide creative solutions to challenging business problems. Linking candidates with industry partners provides professional career development for students, builds workforce capability and enhances innovation.
The 2021-2022 Federal Budget announcements included financial incentives for universities that enrol PhD students in industry internships. While the general thrust of this initiative is welcomed there is an urgent need to consult with the university and industry sectors to develop the right policy settings since there already good examples of what works well in setting up internships between industry and PhD students.
The changes are part of the funding formula the government uses to distribute research money to universities to support students undertaking higher degrees by research. The changes are meant to take effect from 1 January 2022.
While the university sector and industry groups are in agreement about the benefits of research internships, the current proposal limits the incentives to PhDs who undertake a three month internship in the first 18 months of their studies. However internships are beneficial to both student and industry partner throughout the four years of study and may be more valuable after the first year, when PhD students have had a chance to develop their research expertise and transferable skills. Internships undertaken by Masters by Research students are also valuable for all parties and could be included in the new proposal.
Public consultation on the implementation of these changes has been promised but has not happened yet. The ACGR has voiced its concern that, without careful consideration, the narrow eligibility may result in unintended consequences which impact on the training of the next generation of researchers and not have the intended effect of boosting the interactions between universities and industry partners.
The ACGR has commended the refocus on building new employment pathways for research PhD students, with the aim of strengthening collaboration between universities and industry but has urged the government to commence the consultation with students, universities and industry partners as soon as possible so that they can define and implement changes to recognise the breadth of industry engagement mechanisms and achieve the most effective outcomes for all concerned.