Australia's engineering deans have raised concerns that proposed increases to university tuition fees could lead to a skills shortage in the near future.
In a letter addressed to Education Minister Christopher Pyne, the Australian Council of Engineering Deans warn of the possible implications of the Coalition government’s proposed increases to tuition fees for tertiary education.
According to Daryoush Habibi, council president and head of engineering at Edith Cowan University, increases to engineering education fees could lead to translate into a skills shortage in decades to come as students shy away from more costly university courses.
“We foresee a decline in the pipeline of students from school into engineering careers that Australia needs to ensure our long term economic prosperity and health,” said Habibi.
According to Universities Australia, the cuts to funding outlined by the government would result in an increase in tuition fees for STEM students of a staggering 58 per cent, raising annual costs to $14,215 following the launch of fee deregulation in 2016. This compares to an average increase in tuition fees across disciplines of around 26 per cent.
Habibi pointed out that the resulting decline in the engineering talent pool could have severe ramifications for the Australian economy as a whole, and may necessitate the introduction of potentially costly compensating measures as a consequence.
“We would then expect that within a few years time, more critical measures would have to be taken to reverse the trends away from engineering and sciences,” he said.
Data from the council indicates that Australia already suffers from a shortage of domestically trained engineers and has become dependent upon migrant workers to compensate the shortfall. According to its figures first generation migrants comprised 58 per cent of the 207,379 engineers working in Australia in 2011.
In its letter to Pyne, the council requested that it be allowed to participate in the government’s working groups responsible further development of its higher education policies.
The sending of the letter follows closely on the release of a statement by Engineers Australia criticising the proposed education changes contained in the Federal Budget as posing a “triple threat” to students.
Engineers Australia projects that the 20 per cent cutback in government contributions to courses from 2016 will results in a reduction in the average annual government contribution for engineering courses from $17,104 to $12,045, or an increase in overall student contributions towards a four-year course from $34,584 to $54,820.