The peak body for universities has called on the federal government to allow international students from allied countries to fill Defence internships and work opportunities currently only available to Australian citizens.
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In a submission to the Albanese government’s independent Defence Strategic Review, Universities Australia said that its institutions were “uniquely positioned” to help alleviate the skills shortage faced by the Australian Defence Force.
“Expanding the DUS (Defence University Sponsorship) program to allow students wishing to undertake any eligible course to apply at any point in or prior to their studies could open greater recruitment pathways for Defence by attracting students with a wider range of further education interests than are currently offered,” said the submission.
Universities Australia told the review, which is chaired by former chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal (Ret’d) Sir Angus Houston and former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith, that offering the programs to the over 100,000 international students could massively bolster the number of Australian Defence personnel.
“Universities educate over 400,000 international students annually,” the submission said.
“About a quarter of these students come from Australia’s key strategic allies and Five Eyes partner countries.
“While there are valid national security considerations to be considered, the current policy settings restrict access to a wide cross-section of the Australian university cohort and limit Defence’s ability to recruit internationally, despite the rigorous existing vetting and risk mitigation procedures in place.”
The number of eligible applicants would increase by roughly 107,000, with 91,000 from Quad partner India alone, another 6,300 from Japan, 2,800 from the US and 3,700 British students from AUKUS and 3,000 from Canada with Five Eyes.
The skills shortage is set to leave the ADF and defence industry with 30,000 empty roles over the next four years in the cyber security sector alone, at a time where the threat of cyber crime and attack is under the microscope in Australia.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson has said that the defence sector is set to suffer if the skills shortage isn’t addressed.
“Defence is not immune to the skills crisis rippling through our economy,” said Jackson.
“This is particularly troubling right now because at a time when Australia is facing heightened security risks, the skilled workers who can prepare and protect us are increasingly hard to come by.
“This is about much more than boots on the ground — defence goes far beyond that.
“We are in desperate need of additional engineers, intelligence officers and cyber professionals who can make good on the government’s increased investment in defence capability.
“Without a full and skilled workforce, we will continue to see project delays and gaps in our nation’s defence, putting us at greater risk of harm.
“We look forward to continuing to work with government and industry to support the ongoing and crucial work of universities in boosting our nation’s defence and keeping Australia and Australians safe and secure.”
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