Australia's universities face a serious loss of their IT academics to the private sector unless their salaries and resources are greatly improved, according to the Australian Computer Society.
The society says Australia currently faces a shortage of 30,000 IT professionals and that the situation will worsen unless academic salaries are increased both to retain and attract top staff to train the next generation of professionals.
A salary survey by the ACS covering 2,000 of its members has revealed a widening gap between the incomes of academics and their colleagues in business and industry.
The median basic salary for private sector IT managers was Aus$75,400 (Pounds 31,000) compared with Aus$60,000 for university academics and Aus$52,850 for technical college teachers.
Consultants in industry enjoy a median income of Aus$78,750, while the biggest rewards come to IT staff who move into sales and marketing (Aus$84,250) or general management (Aus$90,000).
The ACS survey shows that over the past 12 months, IT professionals working in the private sector earned average increases of 6 per cent whereas those employed in education gained a rise of 3.6 per cent. This compares with a general wage rise of 3.4 per cent and an increase in the consumer price index of just 1.2 per cent.
ACS president Prins Ralston said the survey highlighted concerns at the differences in academic earnings compared with the industry average.
Mr Ralston said the widening gap would only encourage more academics to leave for industry.
"We need to ensure that the people teaching and training our future IT professionals attract salaries at least equal to the median rates being paid to private sector professionals or we face losing these people to industry, which will affect our ability to generate skilled graduates," he said.
Mr Ralston said he feared the quality of the graduates leaving university in future would fall, as would the quality of the teaching they received.
Institutions needed more funding to retain staff and the IT industry needed to become more involved with universities and colleges by offering them greater support.
"Two issues are of key importance: IT faculties need to be resourced properly and appropriately. For some time, they have been funded as if they did not require laboratory-type facilities yet technology in industry is changing so quickly the faculties have to be resourced not just initially but also kept up to current industry standards.
"The second issue is to do with appropriate remuneration. Unless IT academics are rewarded appropriately, they will move to industry. The deans of computing tell us they are having great difficulty attracting and retaining top staff."
The federal government has set up an IT skills taskforce to investigate in detail the skills shortage issue but Mr Ralston said it was industry-based and did not appear concerned about what was happening with recruitment and retention in higher education.
He said the ACS planned to raise the issue with industry and government and would be discussing it with the Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee.