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Medical institutes welcome research workforce audit

Australian government admits to “paucity” of data on health researchers

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes has said that it hopes a national audit of the health and medical research workforce will lead to much-needed policy changes.

The audit, announced in a Department of Health and Aged Care tender document on 2 February, will assess the research workforce in health, medical research and aged care.

The department, which is calling for an independent firm to carry out the audit, says in the tender document: “There is currently a paucity of recent data on the Australian health and medical research workforce, though a number of past surveys and grant funding statistics point to job insecurity and attrition.

“Concurrently, there is a general call from the sector for support for researchers to be improved, particularly job security, training and career development and pathways.”

The audit will “help map the current capacity, capability and gaps in the research workforce, as well as provide an understanding of existing traditional and non-traditional research career pathways”.

‘Great place to start’

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes said it “fully supports” the audit.

“We have advocated strongly, for many years, for policies that would support a more sustainable research workforce that can relieve pressure on what are often highly unstable career pathways,” chief executive Saraid Billiards told Research Professional News.

“We have researchers spending months writing grants, instead of in the lab working on treatments and therapies that will save lives. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a skills gap where researchers are not always able to find the right pathway to have a treatment commercialised and into the hands of the patients that need them the most.”

There are myriad ways “we can support this workforce better, and this audit is a great place to start”, Billiards said.

Key areas the audit will address include workforce demographics, how researchers are funded to do their work, what the “strengths and gaps” in the workforce are, diversity issues, different career pathways and how Australian health research interacts with the international workforce.

The audit will include a “desktop” survey of existing data and an active survey of the current workforce. The contract also includes coming up with “a plan for future monitoring”.

The health department is asking for the audit to be concluded by the end of July. It says the results “will form part of an evidence base that will contribute to future national health and medical research policy”.