Advancing Queensland

The value of Higher Degree Research (HDR1) Candidates

The downturn in Australia’s mining and resource sector has created an imperative for Australia to transition towards becoming a knowledge-based economy2. A key element of a knowledge-based economy is a strong base of researchers and research capacity, and the ability to apply research in a way that generates economic values3.

HDR candidature provides a range of skills that are relevant and valuable to industry in addition to high level technical and research skills. As trained problem-solvers, critical thinkers and creators of knowledge, they can accelerate innovation and translate research to address business challenges and enable new products and services. The research training experience develops the skills necessary for productive, insightful exploration and development.

The value of these skills is increasingly being recognised across industry and by HDR holders. The growth in HDR completions means there may be opportunity for industry to further leverage these capabilities to enable innovation.

“We have a diverse portfolio, both in engineering and science and also clinical. It’s critical we have the right skill set in business, and a PhD is the essential training that delivers that outcome.”
– Industry stakeholder

The length and independence required of HDR training are key variables which differentiate it from other forms of postgraduate education. The individualistic nature of each HDR project is another key characteristic that differentiates research training from coursework degrees such as Bachelors, as candidates have scope to work on the design, development, management and review of their research project. Together, these elements improve the initiative and resilience of students, which are necessary capabilities for driving change and solutions-based work in industry environments. Additionally, many HDR candidates have work experience prior to (and often continuing throughout) their HDR candidature, further adding to the skills and capabilities they are able to leverage4.

“Industry also has to stop looking at PhDs as subject matter experts, it’s more about smart people dealing with complex problems that can create insight and can see things that other people can’t”
– Industry stakeholder

More broadly, workers with greater levels of human capital (in terms of total skills, competencies and social attributes) will be pivotal in driving future knowledge-based economic growth5. The next five to ten years are expected to see changes in the skills required in the workforce, with a greater emphasis on critical thinking, creative problem solving and complex problem solving6, which are core skills developed during an HDR candidature7.

Over the past 70 years, the nature of work in Australia has transformed. The first major shift was a gradual transition in the industries Australians worked in. Jobs in construction, manufacturing, mining and agriculture decreased while service sector jobs increased and now employ 80% of Australians8.

A second shift has been a transition in the types of jobs, with an increase in interaction jobs and a decrease in production and transaction jobs. (Note: interaction jobs involve more complex human interactions and judgements; production jobs involve making and moving things e.g. construction workers; and transaction jobs involve procedural, rules-based tasks e.g. bookkeepers or clerks). Interaction jobs now account for 50% of jobs in Australia, and will account for 60% of the workforce by 20309.

Maximising the value of links between industry and HDR candidates will become even more important over the next decade as demand for research qualified workers and the ageing population impact workforce availability. Estimates suggest 1.3 million graduates with postgraduate qualifications will need to enter Australia’s knowledge workforce from 2015-2025 to drive the future economy10. It has been predicted that the demand for individuals with research qualifications will surpass the supply available for employment in this time frame11.

Advancing Queensland through international students

International education and training (IET) is one of Queensland’s most valuable industries. A strong IET industry drives innovation, builds a stronger economy and creates more jobs.

In 2015–16, Queensland’s IET sector:

  • Generated $3 billion in export revenue;
  • Supported around 20,000 jobs (with one third of these in Queensland’s regions); and
  • Was Queensland’s second-largest service export.

The contribution of IET to the Queensland economy takes a variety of forms and materialises across an array of sectors. Students contribute via their expenditure on tuition fees and study materials as well as their expenditure on accommodation, transport and their broader living costs. IET also spurs economic activity via the flow-on tourism it stimulates. This includes, most directly, expenditure by friends and relatives who travel to Queensland to visit an international student (estimated at $11 million in 2015).

A strong and sustainable IET industry also enhances global engagement, with alumni becoming lifelong ambassadors who understand Queensland and are likely to return and invest.

However, the value of international education goes far beyond this. It enriches communities, enhances Queensland’s global standing, facilitates international diplomacy, creates global business networks and improves our research status. Queenslanders also benefit from a global outlook and improved understanding of cultures through engagement with international students.

In 2015, Queensland hosted more than 100,000 students from primary school to tertiary education, coming from over 160 countries. These students were based across our state, from the Gold Coast to Cairns, Toowoomba to Townsville, Brisbane to Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast to Rockhampton. This represents 16% of Australia’s international student numbers. At the HDR level Queensland is doing even better: our 3,200+ international HDR candidates constitute 19% of numbers Australia-wide.

A defining feature of Queensland’s IET industry is the way the industry’s activities are dispersed across Queensland. In the financial year 2014-2015, around 34% of all international student nights in Queensland were outside the state capital of Brisbane, compared to just 12% of similar students in New South Wales studying outside Sydney, and 4% in Victoria studying outside Melbourne.

Opportunity for improvement

IET has been identified as one of the fastest-growing industries in the global economy and Australia is expected to be a major beneficiary of that growth. Growth of the middle class of key markets is likely to increase demand for a ‘global’ education, with a projected global shortage of 85 million medium-skilled and highly-skilled workers by 2020. As a result, 1.1 billion learners are expected to be participating in education by 2026 just from Australia’s key source markets. Deloitte Access Economics estimate that if Australia reaches just 1% of these global learners, Queensland could reach over 675,000 learners by 2026 if we maintain our current market share.

Under ‘business as usual’ assumptions, onshore international student visa enrolments in Queensland have the potential to increase from 103,200 in 2015 to 150,600 by 2026. By applying the forecasted cumulative increase in onshore student visa enrolments, the export revenue is forecast to rise from just over $2.8 billion in 2015 to $4.6 billion in 2026 for the Queensland economy.

Economic modelling also demonstrates that increasing Queensland’s share of Australia’s international student numbers by just 4% will lift potential export revenue to $7.5 billion and deliver an additional 6,800 jobs across the state.

For regional Queensland (outside of Brisbane), the ‘business as usual’ scenario projects student-related expenditure to rise from $937 million in 2015 to $1.5 billion in 2026. Under the aspirational target, student related expenditure outside Brisbane could rise to $2.4 billion in 2026. Given the opportunity to leverage tourism and the visiting friends and relatives (VFR) market, we also aspire to increase the number of student visitor nights in Queensland regions generated from international education.

Ensuring Queensland provides international students with the most positive and rewarding experience is crucial to the ongoing sustainability of the sector. This applies to the student experience both in and out of the ‘classroom’.

Prospective students are known to consider Queensland’s high-quality education and training institutions, including their:

  • Academic reputation (via rankings);
  • Employment outcomes; and
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations.

However, when considering an education and training provider, the vast majority of students will also investigate factors that contribute towards the total lived experience including:

  • Accommodation;
  • Cost of living;
  • Transport;
  • Location;
  • General living conditions; and
  • Day-to-day practicalities.

As highlighted by the Australian Government’s National Strategy for International Education 2025, genuine ongoing partnerships between Australian business and industry are critical to the success and competitiveness of Australian international education. Cooperation can enhance graduate employability outcomes, support productivity and growth, improve research investment and output, and encourage technology and innovation transfer.

The Queensland Government has committed $25.3 million over five years to fund initiatives under four strategic imperatives:

» Promoting Queensland Internationally
Attract the best and brightest students from the most diverse range of markets across all sectors both onshore and offshore.

» Enhancing the Student Experience
Improve student satisfaction with the quality of their experience both inside and outside of the ‘classroom’.

» Growing our Regions
Increase the contribution of international education and training to regional economies and ensure that Queensland offers the most diverse, comprehensive and unique offerings to international students.

» Connecting the Industry
Improve leadership, coordination and advocacy, and develop a Queensland perspective on industry issues and opportunities.

Note: this text has been extracted and modified from the following sources:

Footnotes (citations are as they appear in these sources):

1 HDR stands for Higher Degree Research. In Australia, our HDR students (known as ‘candidates’) are completing a research degree, usually referring to a PhD. Click here for more information on what this means.

2 OECD (2014). Going for Growth 2014: Australia. Paris. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

3 Jackson, D. and Michelson, G. (2014). Factors influencing the employment of Australian PhDs. Studies in Higher Education, vol. 40, no. 9, pp. 1660-1678; DISSR (2011). 2011 Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure. Canberra; Hodgson, P. (2009). Beyond doctorates down under: Maximising the impact of your doctorate from Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne: Acer Press. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

4 Consultations with University Executives, in: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

5 Europe of Knowledge. (2014). The value of the PhD in a knowledge-based economy: Beyond financial and career gains. Accessed at:; Deloitte Access Economics (2015). The importance of Universities to Australia’s prosperity. Canberra. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

6 Office of the Chief Scientist (2014). Australia’s STEM workforce: a survey of employers. Canberra: Deloitte Access Economics. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

7 ACOLA (2016). Review of Australia’s training research system. Melbourne. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

8 Jobs for NSW 2016, Jobs for the future: Adding 1 million rewarding jobs in NSW by 2036, Jobs for NSW, Sydney,, p. 25. In: Innovation and Science Australia (2018). Australia 2030: prosperity through innovation. Australian Government; ACT, Australia.

9 Lowe, P. (2017). The labour market and monetary policy, address to the Anika Foundation luncheon, Reserve Bank of Australia, Canberra. In: Innovation and Science Australia (2018). Australia 2030: prosperity through innovation. Australian Government; ACT, Australia.

10 Deloitte Access Economics. (2015). The importance of Universities to Australia’s prosperity. Canberra. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT, Australia.

11 Edwards, Daniel; Radloff, Ali; and Coates, Hamish. (2009). Supply, demand and characteristics of the higher degree by research population in Australia. In: ATN (2017). Enhancing the value of PhDs to Australian Industry. ACT.