Higher education research

Publication Date



Academic staff, Career choice, Career paths, Career planning, Educational planning, Graduate students, Higher education, Intention, Labour economics, Occupational aspiration, Student attitudes, University teaching


This report is the culmination of a project carried out for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE).


The main findings of this report are based on the outcomes from the National Research Student Survey (NRSS) conducted in June 2010 across 38 of the 39 universities in Australia. In total 11,710 Higher Degree by Research students (those enrolled in PhD and masters by research degrees, also referred to simply as ‘research students’ in this report) responded to the NRSS, providing a 25.5 per cent response rate across the country. These response numbers represent the largest collection of survey responses from research students ever undertaken in Australia. The report primarily explores the career intentions and motivations of these students. It provides particular emphasis on the interests of Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students (referred to in this report as ‘research students’) in following an academic career on completion of their degree and the support they have received in terms of preparation for university teaching during their candidature. In the context of growing student enrolments and the large numbers of predicted retirements associated with an ageing academic workforce there is a need to examine the career intentions of research students. This report explores the extent to which the current cohort of research students may be a source of replenishment for the academic profession in the context of an ageing academic workforce. It is important to remember that the traditional notion of an academic being someone who has made a linear transition from school to university, to a HDR and on to academia is outdated. Research students come to the HDR from a diverse variety of professional backgrounds and have equally diverse aspirations for their careers after gaining their qualification. Some research students m y already be working in universities in an academic capacity. Many intend to use their research degree as a springboard to a career outside of the university sector. Others undertake a research degree out of interest in the subject matter and simply for the pleasure of studying at an advanced level. Nevertheless, those research students who aspire to an academic career do represent an important source of future academics. The findings of this report raise a number of crucial issues relating to the research degree in Australian universities, the career aspirations of research students and potential issues for the future of the academic workforce over the coming decade.

Place of Publication



Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)


9780642332424 [PDF]