We have a massive teaching shortage. Here’s how to fix it

By Scott Cowie, Loan Dao, Jeanne Allen, Darren Pullen 

The Federal Department of Education predicts an alarming teacher shortage of 4,100 teachers by 2025. It is now more pressing than ever that we explore ways of addressing this crisis. 

Our research examined female Initial Teacher Education (ITE) completion data in Australia to identify trends around which degree types (postgraduate and undergraduate) and study modes (internal, external, and multimodal) are likely to attract more potential female ITE students, and subsequently increase the ITE completion and ultimately the teacher supply pipeline.   

The research reveals a declining trend in ITE completion by females in the internal study mode for both degree types.  On the contrary, there has been an increasing trend in ITE completion by females in the external and multimodal study modes for both types of programs.  We therefore argue that policymakers and universities should make these programs and study modes more accessible to potential female ITE students.  This would help to maximise female ITE completion in tackling the predicted teacher shortage. 

Why use female ITE completion data

Historically, the teaching profession in Australia – and globally – has attracted more females than males. As such, efforts to increase the number of females graduating from ITE programs would play a significant role in bolstering the teaching workforce. Supporting women’s entry and retention in the teaching profession is key to ensuring an adequate ongoing teacher supply.  

A closer look at what the female ITE completion data tell us 

Our research shows that for the period from 2001 to 2021, there was a significant decline – by nearly 40 per cent – of female ITE completion in the internal study mode for undergraduate ITE programs. But at the same time, female ITE completion by multimodal study doubled and nearly tripled for female ITE graduates in the external study mode.   

Similar observations can be seen with the postgraduate ITE programs.  The internal study mode declined by nearly 20 per cent in the same period. For the external and multimodal study modes, there were mammoth increases of 264.40% and 1089.11% respectively in female ITE completion.  

It is clear that there is a growing interest by females to enrol in and complete ITE programs in the external and multimodal study modes as opposed to the internal study mode. 

A graph showing the percentage of a course type

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The upward trend in the external and multimodal study modes is likely attributed, in part, to technological advancements.  The increased use and accessibility of the internet in homes would have contributed to the growth in female ITE completion in these modes of study.  

These same technological advancements facilitated the adoption of online delivery methods for ITE degrees by universities. The shift to online learning around 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would have also contributed to the upward trend in the external study mode. 

Given the increasing trend in female ITE completion in these flexible study modes, universities would be wise to make these modes more accessible to maximise ITE completion.  We argue that policymakers, universities and schools have an important role to play in this space to address the teacher shortage. 

Policymakers should consider: 

Offering financial support, such as scholarships and financial incentives, which are specifically targeted at female students, for example: 

  1. loans or grants for female students during placements to help cover living expenses; and 
  2. needs-based support for female students from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  3. Capping tuition fees to ensure they remain affordable for all female students. 

Universities should consider:  

Providing support for students balancing academic studies with other commitments, such as family duties, which disproportionately burden female students, such as: 

  1. flexible assignment extension and leave of absence policies; and 
  2. subsidised childcare services. 

Offering flexible study options, which might include: 

  1. part-time study;  
  2. evening classes; 
  3. block study; and 
  4. mixed study mode. 

Enhancing the accessibility of external and multimodal programs by: 

  1. providing 24/7 IT helpdesk support and certified training programs to aid the development of skills required for online learning; 
  2. implementing user-friendly learning management systems and eLearning tools; and 
  3. offering funding for suitable IT equipment and internet access, especially for those in regional areas.

Fostering supportive and inclusive learning environments by: 

  1. establishing peer support groups and academic skills advising tailored to external and online students; 
  2. providing networking opportunities;  
  3. mentorship programs; and 
  4. further initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by women in tertiary study. 

Schools should consider: 

Collaborating with policymakers and universities in structured partnerships to: 

  1. facilitate the establishment of outreach programs; 
  2. provide mentoring initiatives; and 
  3. promote teaching as a viable and rewarding career choice for females.

Investing in flexible, supportive, and financially accessible ITE programs, alongside broader strategies can encourage more females to enrol in and complete ITE degrees.  This would contribute to ensuring a steady supply of qualified teachers to help avert the pending teacher shortage. 

From left to right: Scott Cowie is a librarian in Academic Engagement Services at Griffith University, who has a keen interest in educational research.  Loan Dao is an Educational Designer at the University of New South Wales and an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Access Education at Central Queensland University.  Jeanne Allen is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University and is also a member of the Griffith Institute for Educational Research.  Darren Pullen is a Lecturer in Health Science and Information and Communications Technology in the School of Education at the University of Tasmania.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

11 thoughts on “We have a massive teaching shortage. Here’s how to fix it

  1. RGAL says:

    What a one sided, skewed study. There are actually two genders involved in teaching but no mention in this study of males. Teaching is already an increasingly feminised profession. Surely we should be looking at getting both females and males into the profession.

  2. chrys says:

    I agree. I also believe that more males will be hugely beneficial in our nation’s education as the male student achievement levels in reading, writing and language continue to sit below that of females. We need male teachers more than ever before.

  3. Scott Cowie says:

    Thank you for your feedback, RGAL. While this study only focused on female completions, we agree that it’s important to also maximise male representation in the teaching profession. This is something we’ve looked at in another piece of research, and the manuscript for this research is currently under review.

  4. The flexible study options suggested appear inflexible. Instead of evening classes. I suggest designing courses for online asynchronous delivery. They will then be suitable for people who need to study part time and at night.

    I found traditional on-campus night school a soul destroying, frightening experience. Walking though a deserted, dark carpark in sub zero temperatures to a classroom of a few strangers, did not inspire me to learn, just to drop out.

  5. Scott Cowie says:

    Thanks Tom for this great suggestion in offering online asynchronous delivery as a flexible mode. Apologies if our list of options came across as exhaustive, which wasn’t our intention. We’ve suggested a mixed study mode as an option, which would comprise asynchronous and synchronous components that might also suit some students.

  6. Simon Crook says:

    Hi team, thanks for your article. A curious focus on female ITE as the solution. Obviously there is a massive teaching shortage, but as the research you cite suggests, there is less of a problem attracting females into teaching as a viable and rewarding career choice compared to males (which is an identified issue across much research). The flexible multi-modal models you recommend appear like excellent strategies, but wouldn’t they also work with males for many of the same reasons (albeit from a lower starting point)? Do you have any research to show the relative impacts among males and females? Also, would gender-based financial incentives to an already skewed profession even be legal? With such an acute teaching shortage, surely making ITE more accessible and appealing to all genders would be the optimal approach.
    Simon Crook (writing to you while sitting in a ‘lucky’ primary school that has 2 male teachers, 2 more than many schools)

  7. Scott Cowie says:

    Thank you for this feedback, Simon. All valid points that you’ve raised. Indeed, many of these strategies may also help to maximise male completions. We have looked at maximising male teacher representation in another piece of research, and hopefully the article will be published soon.

  8. Jon says:

    A great article and timely as teacher shortages are a pressing issue, and the Commonwealth Government’s decision to offer an income placement allowance for teaching students is a positive step. Reducing 4-year education degrees to 2 years with a 6-month paid internship could accelerate the pipeline, providing practical experience and financial support, making the profession more attractive. However, this may require significant curriculum restructuring to ensure all necessary content is covered. Elevating education degrees to the master’s level with a prior degree requirement can ensure teachers have a strong foundation in specific subjects, enhancing the profession’s status and potentially attracting more candidates. This approach, though, might extend the time and cost of becoming a teacher, potentially deterring some. These changes could increase graduation rates and improve course completion rates by offering shorter, more intensive programs with financial support, reducing dropout rates, and ensuring a dedicated, prepared student body. Balancing these reforms with the need to maintain high standards in teacher training is crucial for addressing the shortage effectively. Well done to the authors for raising some serious issues and supporting their findings with hard data.

  9. Scott Cowie says:

    Thank you Jon for your thoughtful comments and great suggestions on improving course completion rates. Balancing accelerated programs with maintaining high standards is indeed crucial. Your insights on curriculum structuring and elevating education ITE degrees would definitely be worthwhile efforts.

  10. Tegan says:

    A very interesting read and it would be good to see a similar study on male teachers, plus another study that addresses a real concern of why teachers are not staying in the profession; that being poor preparation. Many teaching courses fail to meet necessary standards due to several issues. These include outdated curricula that do not align with current educational research and technologies, insufficient hands-on classroom experience, and a lack of emphasis on crucial skills like classroom management. Additionally, student teachers often do not receive adequate mentorship from experienced educators, and there is a significant gap between training and the real-world challenges faced in diverse, under-resourced school environments. The variability in the quality of teacher training programs, insufficient focus on subject mastery, and bureaucratic hurdles further exacerbate these problems. Moreover, many teaching courses are taught by staff who have not been teachers themselves, leading to a disconnect between theory and practice. Without mechanisms for continuous improvement and feedback, these programs can stagnate, failing to evolve with changing educational needs. Addressing these issues requires comprehensive reforms to update curricula, enhance practical experience, provide better mentorship, and ensure alignment with real-world teaching demands.

  11. Scott Cowie says:

    Thanks for this valuable feedback, Tegan. You’ve raised some very important issues with ITE that need to be addressed. We have looked into maximising male teacher representation in another piece of research, and the manuscript is currently under review.

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