The Australian academic profession is headed for crisis due to a lack of academic staff, unless major change takes place.

A new report to be released at the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education’s International Conference highlights that the combination of an aging workforce, low satisfaction levels among Australian academics, limited attraction of the Australian academic profession and rapidly growing student numbers is placing the profession in danger of losing the best and brightest young academics to the private sector or international competition.

Over the next five years, 24 per cent of senior academics will retire and another 23 per cent will follow in the following five-year period, equating to a loss of around 5000 senior academics across Australia. Current numbers of young academics are unlikely to be enough to replace this loss.

The study also reveals that Australian academics are less satisfied with their work than international colleagues and are more likely to change jobs. They report one of the lowest levels of satisfaction with institutional management and support, sit slightly below the international average in terms of the extent of fixed-term contracts and work among the longest hours.

The looming shortage of academic staff has been compounded by a 107 per cent increase in student numbers between 1989 and 2007, with only a 28 per cent increase in staff numbers during the same period. The Federal Government’s ambitious target of 40 per cent attainment of bachelor degrees among Australia’s 25 to 34 year olds is likely to further stress already compromised staff:student ratios.

Professor Lynn Meek, Director of the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education says: “Unfortunately, our study’s findings do not bode well for the future prospects of the academic profession in Australia. To survive, the sector needs to attract our nation’s best and brightest young people and, to do this, major change needs to take place.

“We need more research into the nature of the Australian academic profession, a more concerted effort from university management to balance efficiencies with a culture where academics can thrive and a more flexible approach to the terms and conditions under which academics are employed.

“Remuneration is also a really important issue. Although Australian academics’ salaries are roughly the same as their overseas colleagues, they are considerably lower than their private sector equivalents’. To recruit talented young academics, universities need to be just as attractive as the private sector.”

The Attractiveness of the Australian Academic Profession: A comparative analysis was written by academics at the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education, the Australia Council for Education Research and the Educational Policy Institute.

The study compares the characteristics of Australian academics and their work with those of their counterparts in 24 other countries. Staff from 20 Australian universities took part in the Changing Academic Profession survey, which provided the data for this report. It is the largest and most extensive survey of academic staff yet conducted.

The results will be discussed at the “Attractiveness of the Academic Profession: the Management Challenge” conference at the Westin Hotel, Melbourne, which is on today and tomorrow. Media are welcome to attend, however registration is required.