It is critical that the institutional and intellectual capacity of the education sector – schools, vocational education and higher education – be an ongoing priority of the Government. The MCA is pleased that it is able to contribute to this review of Higher Education Base Funding as it gives the minerals industry the opportunity to put forward a number of points based on eleven years of experience working with the sector, including expending more than $22 million to sustain and build educational capacity.

Key among these points is the need for Government to formally recognise the core disciplines of mining engineering, metallurgy and earth science as disciplines of national interest, and accordingly to alter the way these disciplines receive Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) funding. The failure of past Governments to index higher education funding has resulted in a growing inability of university departments to be viable under the student numbers-based funding system, especially in mineral-related departments that traditionally have small student numbers and high teaching costs. This is aggravated further by current shortages of skilled academic staff at our universities and is compounded by the ageing profile of academics especially in minerals disciplines. This Government failure has resulted in the need for direct minerals industry investment to secure a future supply of professionals for the minerals industry.

If the higher education sector is to meet the future skill and research demands of the Australian minerals industry, a significant rethink of the current higher education funding arrangements is required as the system moves to being demand driven from 2012. In fact, the Australian Government in its formal response to the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce (NRSET) report on 15 March 2011, points to student-centred funding arrangements for higher education as the means by which shortfalls in these core disciplines are addressed and changes in base funding of these core disciplines is clearly the mechanism to achieve this. This submission from the MCA identifies what types of arrangements could be introduced to improve the viability of minerals-related higher education for the benefit of all Australians.

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