Universities seek role in defence overhaul

Student internships and better collaboration on research are two ideas being floated by the university sector to improve the Australian Defence Force.

Universities Australia has made a submission to the independent defence strategic review, which was launched by the Albanese government in August.

It said the skills shortage was plaguing the ADF and defence industry, with a shortfall of cyber security professionals alone tipped to hit up to 30,000 unfilled positions over the next four years.

Universities Australia chief Catriona Jackson said her sector had a role to play in providing extra engineers and intelligence officers as well as cyber professionals.

"Without a full and skilled workforce, we will continue to see project delays and gaps in our nation's defence, putting us at greater risk of harm," she said.

The peak body's proposals included exploring new ways to financially support students to study in areas of defence need, and offering students a taste-test of a defence career through a broader range of internships.

As well, there should be a rethink of the eligibility requirements for defence internships, an easier path for non-university-educated workers to transition to university study in areas of defence need, and a boost to research partnerships between defence and regional universities.

The review is also looking at some of the big strategic challenges facing Australia.

Ms Jackson said universities also had a role to play in building understanding between nations and developing relationships "which is so important to regional stability".

"In a changing global environment, we need more of what universities offer, not less. Our sector is here to help and there is no time to waste."