The governing body for universities has urged the federal government to allow international students from allied countries to fill defense internship and job opportunities currently only available to Australian citizens.
In a submission to the Albanian government’s independent review of its defense strategy, Universities Australia said its institutions were “uniquely positioned” to help alleviate the skills shortage faced by ADF.
“Expanding the Defense University Sponsorship (DUS) program to allow students who wish to take a suitable course to apply at any point during or before their studies could open up better defense recruitment avenues by providing students with a broader spectrum of continuing education interests than is currently offered,” the template says.
Universities Australia told the review, which is led by former Defense Forces chief Sir Angus Campbell and former Defense Secretary Stephen Smith, that offering the programs to over 100,000 international students could massively increase Australia’s defense workforce.
“Universities educate over 400,000 international students annually,” the draft said.
“About a quarter of these students come from Australia’s key strategic allies and Five Eyes partner countries.
“While there are legitimate national security considerations to be taken into account, current policy settings limit access to a broad cross-section of Australia’s university cohort and constrain the Department of Defense’s ability to recruit internationally, despite the stringent screening and risk mitigation procedures in place.”
The number of eligible applicants would increase by around 107,000, with 91,000 from Quad partner India alone, another 6,300 from Japan, 2,800 US and 3,700 British students from AUKUS and 3,000 from Canada with Five Eyes.
Skills shortages will leave the ADF and defense industry with 30,000 vacancies over the next four years in the cybersecurity sector alone, at a time when the threat of cybercrime and attacks in Australia is under scrutiny.
Australia’s universities chief, Catriona Jackson, said the defense sector will suffer if skills shortages are not addressed.
“Defense is not immune to the skills crisis that is sweeping our economy,” Jackson said
“This is of particular concern right now, as at a time when Australia is facing heightened security risks, skilled workers who can prepare and protect us are becoming increasingly difficult to come by.
“This is about much more than being down to earth – defense is much more than that.
“We desperately need additional engineers, intelligence officers and cyber experts who can offset the government’s increased investment in defense capabilities.
“Without a full and skilled workforce, we will continue to see project delays and gaps in our country’s defenses, putting us at greater risk of damage.
“We look forward to continuing to work with government and industry to support the ongoing and critical work of universities in strengthening our nation’s defenses and the security of Australia and Australians.”