The Australian Computer Society today announced a multimillion-dollar plan to boost the IT industry in Australia through funding tertiary scholarships and R&D.
ACS president John Ridge said the first national ACS Foundation will support the industry by helping to improve access to IT education. It intends to offer more than 100 scholarships and disseminate between $3 million and $5 million of educational grants annually by its fifth year of operation.
The foundation aims to specifically target both gifted and disadvantaged students as well as women, who are significantly under-represented in the Australian IT industry.
Ridge said the foundation has been established to facilitate private and public sponsorship of IT higher education and research projects. He said it would encourage more people to undertake IT studies by making them more accessible.
"If we can develop a big enough pool of highly skilled IT professionals, then all of a sudden the brain drain doesn't become a threat but an opportunity to import IT professionals overseas. More IT companies will be encouraged to set up here in Australia, which will create huge financial benefits for Australia as a nation."
Ridge said Australia's economic future depends on its ability to produce skilled ICT professionals and to encourage research.
Scholarships for 2002, both undergraduate and postgraduate, will be announced in September. The recipients will be chosen based not only on their academic record but personal and communication skills, Ridge said.
"We are looking to provide for those maybe more rounded individuals rather than just scholastic records. And we're also looking to increase the rate of women in IT."
The scholarships on offer will each be valued at about $10,000 a year for three to four years.
The Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, congratulated the ACS on the launch of the foundation and said direct sponsorship support between Australian companies and students of IT is a viable way to develop skills and resources in Australia.
"In this regard, the foundation's aims complement the Government's $2.9 billion Innovation Action Plan. Funding of $155 million for 21,000 new university places over the next five years, and the Innovation Awareness Program to promote innovative careers to young Australians, will complement the work of the ACS Foundation," Alston said.
Ridge said that with the Australian IT industry generating $100 billion a year and employing 680,000 people, the way forward is to prepare for the next growth cycle by increasing the skilled IT workforce now.
The ACS has secured significant funding from IT companies, including Online Advantage and Compuware, which has donated $500,000, although according to Ridge, to reach its ambitious targets additional funding and industry commitment is needed.
Ridge said the foundation, which has ATO status as a 'deductible gift recipient', will operate nationally with a flexible umbrella structure.
"We are extremely committed to ensuring the success of the Foundation and we're confident this announcement will encourage government and business support," he added.