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Science failure undermines industry.

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Senator Kim Carr Labor Senator for Victoria Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research.


“Australia’s manufacturing performance is less internationally competitive because of the failure of the Howard Government to keep pace with our OECD competitors in the training of maths, science and engineering qualified people,” said Senator Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation, Science and Research.

As UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown said in his Budget speech last year, “Every advanced industrial country knows that falling behind in science and mathematics means falling behind in commerce and prosperity.”

OECD figures show that 0.4% of university students graduate with qualifications in maths or statistics compared with the OECD average of 1.0%.

The number of Australian Year 12 students enrolled in science according to the last available figures was 106,922 in 2005, compared to 146,602 in the year 2000.

In the past decade, mathematical science departments at our Group of Eight universities have lost a third of their permanent staff, according to our leading mathematicians.

In last month’s National Strategic Review of Mathematical Science Research in Australia report, entitled ‘Critical Skills for Australia’s Future’, it was noted that the percentage of Year 12 students taking higher level/advanced and intermediate maths fell from 41% in 1995 to 34% in 2004.

“This is limiting the level of training that can be supplied in undergraduate degree programs such as commerce, education, engineering and science,” the report states. “Australian universities are lowering mathematics prerequisites and this is undermining enrolments in high school mathematics.”

Australia faces a critical shortage of maths/science teachers. According to the Australian Secondary Principals Association Teacher and Supply Demand Survey for 2006, about 40 percent of science classes were being taken by teachers without

subject expertise - i.e. either had no post graduate training in the subject or did not pass that subject at the second year level in their degree.

“Australia’s science failure undermines our capacity to train skilled workers, weakens our apprenticeship programs, and our professional and para-professional training programs. It also undermines our national research and development capacity and weakens our international competitiveness”, Senator Carr said.

The science crisis is deepening with the average age of Australian teachers now in excess of 50 years. According to the Australian Government’s Review of Teaching, Australia now has the oldest teaching workforce it has had in 40 years. Increasing numbers of teachers are approaching retirement age, and they are not being replaced

in sufficient numbers by suitably qualified people.

“The Howard Government’s rhetoric does not match our declining performance on maths, science and innovation. It has downgraded the importance of science technology by making the position of Chief Scientist essentially a one-day-a-week job. It has dramatically raised the cost of HECS. Science graduates in 1996 paid $3,000 per annum. They now pay $7,118 per annum.

“We now have the ludicrous situation where a science graduate working in a school classroom is paid the same rate as other teachers, yet faces a much higher HECS debt as a direct result of the Howard Government’s decisions,” Senator Carr said.

For comment, contact Senator Kim Carr, 0419 563 922