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 to be able to contribute to this Review of the Demand Driven Funding System, 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 $36 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. Recent changes to reintroduce indexation and the move to the demand driven funding system in 2012 have had little impact on the access of students into these minerals-specific professions. 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, with this review of the demand driven funding system being timely. 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. Changing the base funding of these core disciplines is clearly a mechanism by which 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.

The MCA recommends that the Australian Government:

  • Formally recognise mining engineering, metallurgy and earth science as disciplines of national interest
  • Alter the way it funds these disciplines of national interest in any demand driven Commonwealth Grant Scheme (CGS) system by increasing its contribution and by reducing the student contribution in order to encourage universities to continue to teach these disciplines, students to study them and non- universities to offer sub-bachelor options
  • Provide targeted additional funding to universities for student places in these disciplines of national interest that would:
    • Reward institutional collaboration by matching funding that the institutions have attracted from the minerals industry for teaching and learning initiatives
    • Reflect the higher costs associated with work-integrated learning (usually borne by the university or the student), which is common and at times compulsory in minerals industry professions.

The key actions above are required so that universities:

  • Can sustainably deliver high-cost/low-student number programs without the need to rely on life-support funding from the minerals industry for survival
  • Have the capacity to attract and retain high quality teachers and researchers
  • Have the capacity to play key roles in delivering on the national innovation agenda
  • Offer undergraduate programs that not only provide students with high quality and relevant technical skills, but also equip graduates with skills to make informed business decisions that take into account the social, environmental and financial aspects of development in ways that protect the rights and interests of both current and future generations.

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