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Higher education vs politicking and the future of the Australian automotive industry

The Australian automotive industry grabs news headlines, particularly as the political parties wrestle for hearts and minds during an election campaign. But what’s happening on university campuses tells a very different story of demand and investment  – and where Australia’s automotive engineering fits into the nation’s future.

The Labor party began its election campaign by announcing funding for the automotive industry and a target to boost the market by acquiring Australian cars for Commonwealth fleets, followed up with further funding commitments. Innovation Minister Kim Carr says, “The automotive industry is vital to Australia’s economic future”. A survey for The Australian newspaper found a majority of Australians support the government to provide assistance to local car makers.

Australia’s universities also invest in knowledge and skills development, selecting those options that promise future gains through research (funding or commercialisation outputs) and through teaching (student revenue and improved graduate outcomes). The higher education sector’s investment in automotive engineering is about as low as it can go – and still declining.

Not one university was assessed for automotive engineering in the last Excellence for Research Australia. The University of Adelaide suspended its intake into its undergraduate automotive engineering program last year and the program is under review. Strong STEM universities likeUniversity of Newcastle and QUT only mention automotive engineering as a potential option for mechanical engineering graduates.

Flinders University is transforming an old automotive plant at Tonsley into a hub for education, research and collaboration with industry – erasing its automotive past.

Universities’ only activity in automotive is in Formula 1. The University of Sydney, Monash University and Swinburne are all in the Society of Automotive Engineers Australia Formula SAE teams. It’s good PR and enthuses students – and that’s all.

When no universities are actively participating in an industry that relies on high levels of skills and innovation, then that industry has reached the end of its road in Australia. Beep-beep.

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