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Minister confirms shortage of scientists and engineers.

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Wednesday 19 July 2006

Minister confirms shortage of scientists and engineers


TONY EASTLEY: An audit by the Department of Education and Science has found that Australia fa ces a shortage of 20,000 scientists and engineers within six years. 


The demand for scientific and technological skills is growing just as it's becoming harder to attract people to the sciences. 


The Education Minister Julie Bishop has been speaking to Gillian Bradford in Canberra.  


JULIE BISHOP: Put simply, we need more scientists and engineers and those with technological skills. We've got an ageing population, our baby boomer generation is reaching retirement, and we need to encourage future generations to become scientists and engineers. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Now, this audit that's been done by your department says the shortage will be of about the nature of 20,000 within six years. How can you turn things around in that time frame? 


JULIE BISHOP: The report was actually prepared by a steering committee within the department, but with representations from the science community, the learned academies, the education sector, universities, vocational and training institutions, schools and industry. 


The findings show that we are gaining skills from skilled migration, but the picture may well change as international demand increases. 


So in other words, we're competing for skills across the globe. What we need to do is ensure that we can increase a proportion of students in science and engineering and technology courses across the education sector. We must increase the number of students going into teaching in these areas so we can increase the number of high-quality teachers in our schools. 


It will take a co-ordinated, comprehensive effort across the nation, and that's what I'm calling for. I'm aiming for a national approach to science education across the country. Encourage our children to take it up, encourage more students to study these subjects at uni and encourage more students to become highly qualified teachers. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: Because the simple fact is at the school level, students just aren't taking up maths and science like they used to. 


JULIE BISHOP: That's right. The proportion of students in science, engineering and technology courses across the education sector, including in our schools, has remained static or is indeed declining, particularly in advanced maths and physics and chemistry. So these are the areas that I'll be focusing upon. 


GILLIAN BRADFORD: And what do you do? Do you have any hope of turning around that predicted shortfall before it hits within six years? 


JULIE BISHOP: Well, we already have in place a number of initiatives and programs to support science education in our schools, and these are starting to have an impact, but we need to do more and develop a coherent, coordinated and national approach to science education in Australia. 


And so I'm establishing the Australian School Science Education Framework to see what gaps exist in our current programs and then determine what we can do, recommend actions to enhance and address future priority needs in science education. 


TONY EASTLEY: Education Minister Julie Bishop.