Impact of the pandemic on Australia’s research workforce

8 May 2020

This rapid research brief synthesises the evidence on the impact the pandemic is having and likely to have on Australia’s research workforce and its capability to support our recovery efforts.

Key findings:

  • Australia’s research workforce will be severely impacted by the pandemic and the effects are likely to be felt for an extended period.
  • Income to universities, medical research institutes, publicly funded research agencies, CRCs, and the industrial sector is suffering from the loss of foreign students and a sharp decline in business research spending and philanthropy.
  • To try and make ends meet as budgets contract, universities are reducing the number of casual teachers and increasing the teaching loads of permanent staff, further limiting their research capacity.
  • These impacts are greater than during the 2008 global financial crisis and are being observed internationally.
  • University job losses of up to 21,000 full time equivalent (FTE) positions are projected over the next six months of which an estimated 7,000 could be research-related academic staff. There are concerns that women, early-career researchers and recent graduates will disproportionately experience negative impacts.
  • Domestic and international post-graduate students comprise 57% of the university R&D workforce. Research interruptions and travel and visa restrictions suggest that more than 9000 international research students will not resume their research in 2020.
  • Industry sectors may experience a reduced capacity to innovate given that universities perform approximately 43% of all applied research in Australia.
  • A decline in innovation may limit economic growth by slowing the development of new technology, skills, and efficiency gains in service and production processes.

Contributing authors
Lead author: Professor Frank Larkins AM FAA FTSE
Lead author: Professor Frank Larkins AM FAA FTSE University of Melbourne
Professor Kate Darian-Smith FASSA
Professor Kate Darian-Smith FASSA Executive Dean and Pro Vice Chancellor (College of Arts, Law and Education), University of Tasmania
Mr Brendon Douglas
Mr Brendon Douglas Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University; Vice Chancellors’ Fellow, Medical Research, Innovative Research Universities
Professor Stephen Garton FAHA FRSH FASSA
Professor Stephen Garton FAHA FRSH FASSA Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Sydney
Professor Emily Hilder FTSE
Professor Emily Hilder FTSE Director Future Industries Institute, University of South Australia
Professor Duncan Ivison FAHA
Professor Duncan Ivison FAHA Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research, University of Sydney
Ms Catriona Jackson
Ms Catriona Jackson Chief Executive, Universities Australia
Professor Iven Mareels FTSE
Professor Iven Mareels FTSE Lab Director, IBM Research Australia
Dr Adi Paterson ATSE
Dr Adi Paterson ATSE Chief Executive Office, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Dr Jack Steele
Dr Jack Steele Director Science Impact and Policy, CSIRO
Dr Tony Peacock FTSE
Dr Tony Peacock FTSE Chief Executive Officer, Co-Operative Research Centres Association
Dr Peter Thomas
Dr Peter Thomas Director of Policy, Australian Association of Medical Research Institutes
Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner AO FAHA
Emeritus Professor Graeme Turner AO FAHA Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland
Peer reviewers
Dr Tim Cahill
Dr Tim Cahill Managing Director, Research Strategies Australia
Professor Peter Coaldrake AO
Professor Peter Coaldrake AO
Image of Professor Susan Dodds
Professor Susan Dodds Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Industry Engagement, La Trobe University
Dr Erol Harvey FTSE
Dr Erol Harvey FTSE Head of Strategy and Research Translation, Bionics Institute
Professor Helene Marsh FAA FTSE
Professor Helene Marsh FAA FTSE Emeritus Professor of Environmental Science, James Cook University
Emeritus Professor Mike Miller AO FTSE
Emeritus Professor Mike Miller AO FTSE University of South Australia
Image of Professor Andrew Norton
Professor Andrew Norton Australian National University
Professor Mario Pinto
Professor Mario Pinto Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Griffith University
Professor Deborah Terry AO FASSA
Professor Deborah Terry AO FASSA Chair, Universities Australia

© 2020 Australian Academy of Science

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