Universities eye opportunities in trilateral submarine plan

Universities in South Australia have indicated their eagerness to play a major role in the development of nuclear-powered submarines, the key component of a recent trilateral security pact entered into between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, aimed at shoring up stability in the Indo-Pacific.

“We have the population and the history of naval shipbuilding in South Australia. What we’ve always needed is a continuous pipeline of work that allows businesses to invest,” said South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas on 15 March, the day the nuclear submarine building agreement known as AUKUS was signed.

“We can deliver the workforce of tomorrow. And today’s agreement [is about] the development of that workforce into the future,” he said.

Malinauskas was speaking at a press conference in Osborne in South Australia where a naval submarine building facility will be created. He said a training academy would be created in Osborne to provide trade-level training for building nuclear-powered submarines.

He added that universities will play a big role in the project that is going to be worth in excess of AU$300 billion (US$202 billion) over 30 years.

Increase in university places

“Firstly, there is a commitment to an increase of 800 university places here in South Australia over the coming four years, in areas that are critical to the building of nuclear-powered submarines, particularly in areas of engineering and mathematics,” Malinauskas told the media.

The two leading South Australian universities, the University of Adelaide and Flinders University, dived into the submarine project even before the ink on the agreement had dried.

In a statement posted on its website on 15 March, the University of Adelaide said it is ready to help train the workforce and provide research expertise that will be required to help Australia to achieve its goal of having a nuclear-powered defence force.

It also pointed out that as a research institution with 16 discipline areas, rated in the world’s top 100, the university is at the forefront of defence research that has been pioneered in South Australia.

“The University of Adelaide is well prepared to contribute decisively to the future skills and research needs of our state and our nation,” said Professor Anton Middelberg, deputy vice-chancellor (research). “We will use our long history of engagement with the defence sector to be a driving force at the centre of the research and education opportunities that this new partnership presents.”

Not to be outdone, Flinders University released a statement on 19 March announcing they had struck a deal with two leading nuclear science and technology universities in the UK and the US to help South Australia to become a home for nuclear expertise ahead of the construction phase of the AUKUS submarines.

One of the partners is the University of Manchester in the UK, the home to Dalton Nuclear Institute, which Flinders describes as “the most advanced academic civil nuclear science and technology capacity in the UK”. Their other partner is the University of Rhode Island in the US that has a notable defence-focused university-industry partnership with the US Navy, according to the statement.

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