The Australian government should immediately allocate an extra A$25 million (£9.1 million) a year for universities to address the shortage of computer science and information technology professionals, Monash University researchers say.
Up to 2,500 qualified school students did not get university places in IT courses last year despite the rising numbers of vacancies for IT graduates, the researchers say. Even with the massive growth in the number of foreign students undertaking IT studies, the researchers say it is unlikely they will provide more than "a useful supplement" to the Australian IT workforce.
In a report in the Monash journal, People and Place, a research team led by sociologist Bob Birrell notes that despite a big rise in the number of students graduating from IT courses in recent years, two out of three were full-fee students from overseas.
Fewer than one in five of the foreign students who graduated with IT qualifications last year took advantage of new migration rules to apply for permanent residency. The Monash report says the low uptake reflects the demand for such graduates in their home countries and elsewhere, and possibly the fact that Australia requires foreign graduates to go offshore to apply.
Recent Immigration Department statistics show that over the past year or so there have been fewer than expected applications for permanent residency from foreign students with local IT qualifications. The researchers argue that Australia's IT industry can rely on this source for a major boost in trained graduates.
Postgraduates have also been seriously affected by the policies of both conservative and Labor governments in cutting the number of funded places, forcing universities to impose full fees on local students. The researchers say that if IT training were a priority, local postgraduates would be funded, but this has not occurred.
"From the point of view of Australian employers desperate for a larger supply of highly trained IT specialists, the effect of the 'user pays' policy has been that the supply of locals with postgraduate training is no higher than it was a decade ago," the report says. "There has been expansion in the output of postgraduate IT numbers but mostly among full-fee overseas students."
The appropriate policy response would be to allocate to universities more funds tied to expansion in places for local students in areas of national importance, including IT.