Australian Defence Force Academy opens engineering degrees to civilians

Australian Defence Force Academy opens engineering degrees to civilians

Australia's military university will allow civilian undergraduates to study alongside defence recruits for the first time.

The Australian Defence Force Academy, whose campus is run by the University of NSW, will open its engineering degrees to 40 non-military personnel from next year.

Australian Defence Force Academy officer cadets at a graduation parade.

Australian Defence Force Academy officer cadets at a graduation parade.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The decision, which has been discussed intermittently for more than five years, was made largely to alleviate a shortage of skills in Canberra's construction industry. The ACT government and the Defence Department agreed on the details earlier this month.

The university's rector, Professor Michael Frater, said the lack of local degrees in "traditional" disciplines such as civil, mechanical, aeronautical and electrical engineering had long concerned ACT businesses.


"What happens is that people leave school in Canberra, they want to study engineering and go interstate to do that, but then they don't come back," he said.

"For people in construction here to be able to hire people who have graduated in Canberra is going to make it much easier."

Prospective students will need the same tertiary entrance ranking (about 91) that is required to study engineering at UNSW's Sydney campus.

If successful, they will study alongside Australian Defence Force officer cadets, though they will not take part in their military training.

Professor Frater, himself an engineering graduate, said it was likely that some civilian students would choose to enlist when they saw what defence life was like.

But he said ADFA's main attraction was its small class sizes compared with other universities that offered engineering.

"It's an environment where they will get a greater level of interaction with our academic staff, which is becoming harder and harder to find elsewhere in the sector."

The city's other main education providers, the Australian National University and the University of Canberra, offer degrees in systems engineering and software engineering, but do not provide the traditional disciplines available at ADFA.

The University of Canberra announced plans in 2012 for a civil engineering degree, which would have specialised in urban engineering and infrastructure, though it did not proceed.

John Hindmarsh, the executive chairman of one of the ACT's largest businesses, Hindmarsh Construction, said there was a significant shortage of engineers in Canberra "and currently the industry has to look elsewhere to attract engineers to move to the ACT".

"This new initiative will help to fill up this gap and supply ACT industries with local engineers who will have applied experience gained during their studies," Mr Hindmarsh said.

Professor Frater said he had already received applications from students living in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia.

However, he said the university would not target international students, nor did it have plans to allow civilians to enrol in ADFA's other degrees.

Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant and writes regularly about government.