Australia to spend AU$4.5m on cybersecurity education centres

The Australian government is hoping to bolster the appeal of a career in cybersecurity by launching Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has announced it will be launching Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence in the hope of improving Australia's cybersecurity through education and research.

For a cost of AU$4.5 million, the government expects the centres will help address Australia's shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals.

In a joint statement, Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security Dan Tehan said the centres will produce work-ready graduates to increase Australia's cybersecurity workforce and "world-leading" research on cybersecurity, as well as providing executive education programs for both industry and government.

Pointing to a survey released on Tuesday that found two-thirds of Australian young adults had never discussed a career in cybersecurity at high school, Tehan said Australia needs to work harder to encourage future employment in the sector as there is a growing demand for cybersecurity professionals.

"Australia also needs talented cyber professionals to help protect our national and business interests online and to encourage innovation," Tehan said. "The Centres of Excellence extends the government's work encouraging young people into cyber careers through the Australia Cyber Security Challenge and Women in Cyber networking event."

Birmingham said the government wants to ensure that the funding for cybersecurity is being directed as strategically as possible.

"In an important next step we will also appoint a working group to review the courses currently on offer at universities and the eligibility and selection criteria for establishing the Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence," Birmingham added.

"Ultimately, our Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence will help ensure our students are ready to enter the workforce, that we can up-skill executives and government professionals, and that our research highlights Australia as a leader in the field."

In December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged AU$30 million through to 2019-20 as part of the government's AU$1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda to establish a new industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre in a bid to grow and strengthen Australia's cybersecurity industry.

Turnbull then launched the country's cybersecurity strategy in April, which is aimed at defending the nation's cyber networks from organised criminals and state-sponsored attackers, and sits alongside the AU$400 million provided in the Defence White Paper for cyber activities.

Speaking at the inaugural SINET61 conference in September, Alastair MacGibbon, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security, said Turnbull's 33 cyber-based initiatives were "ambitious".

"I've been around in this game for quite some time; I've been here for several of these strategies and I've never detected the same level of interest. I've never seen industry or academia as engaged and frankly I've never seen government as engaged in this process," he said.

"I realise that I now have the fantastic opportunity to take that strategy forward."

Pointing to the establishment of the Cyber Security Growth Centre, MacGibbon said the strategy contains some great examples of how to grow businesses and help innovation flourish.

"The idea behind that centre is not just conversation, not just bringing people together -- that only goes so far -- it's actually to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. It's actually to invest money into those connections, into that development of IP, into the commercialisation of those great ideas, and into the export of those ideas because that's where we'll start making a difference," MacGibbon said.

"I think the growth centre is potentially one of the great keys that is in the Cyber Security Strategy ... and I think gives it the most chance of not just surviving but thriving."

Last week, Tehan said that a centralised approach to cybersecurity is dangerous, and it is preferable for departments to take care of themselves instead.

"My view is we want each individual department and agency to take responsibility themselves, and the best way we can do that is just remind them of the need for them to take this issue incredibly seriously," he said.

"What we want to develop is a culture with all departments and agencies within government that they have the mechanisms in place to make sure they are as cyber-secure as they possibly can be, and if there is capability shortfalls, that they reach out to see how they can get them addressed by other agencies who can help in this regard."

The minister said departments and agencies needed to understand their requirements, but also their limitations that could be addressed by other parts of government.

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