[Background]

**Executive Summary: Mathematical Sciences in Australia - Looking for a Future
**

The
brain drain from the universities, exemplified by the data from the mathematical
sciences documented as part of this study, represents the kind of loss of
intellectual capital no nation that aspires to be a leader in science and
technology can afford. Significantly much of this loss has been in areas such as
statistics which underpin other areas where Australia aspires to be a world
leader such as financial services and biotechnology.

Further,
in terms of young peoples’ life chances, English and mathematics remain the
access subjects. However, the economic divide in access to mathematics is now
firmly entrenched in our schools system, and will become progressively worse
unless something is done urgently about teacher supply. Remote rural schools and
‘hard to staff’ inner urban schools will be left deprived of the essential
resource they need—well qualified mathematics teachers—to offer the more
advanced courses and a quality mathematics education for all students.

In
the long term, solving the supply of mathematics teachers is intimately
connected to the number of students studying advanced level mathematics in
schools and strong mathematical sciences in the universities. However, both of
these have shrunk—when they should have been expanding—so Australia now
suffers a crisis throughout the mathematical sciences.

For
these reasons the sense of optimism engendered in the science community by the
Chief Scientist’s Discussion Paper The Chance to Change 1, and the report of
the Innovation Summit Implementation Group (ISIG) Innovation—Unlocking
the Future 2 , is more muted in the mathematical sciences. In the words of one
mathematician, “…neither increased ARC funding nor post docs will help much
the diminished role of mathematics and statistics departments in
universities”3 . This echoes the fear in the mathematical sciences that even
if the recommendations of these two reports are implemented—which they should
be—the implementation will fall far short of what is needed to restore the
health of this fundamental discipline. In 2000 the mathematical sciences in
Australia face a perilous future.

**Summary
of Principal Findings and Priorities for Action
**

This
report has three main findings and priorities for investment in the mathematical
sciences. These are the areas that need immediate action but to re-build the
mathematical sciences in Australia a long term, coordinated strategy is needed
that addresses the multi-faceted weaknesses that are now inherent across the
discipline. The priority areas are:

•
improving the number of students in advanced mathematical courses in schools and
universities,

•
ensuring that all students are taught mathematics by teachers with appropriate
content knowledge and teaching skills and,

•
addressing the problems in university mathematics by reversing the excessive
staff and student losses.

----------------------------

1
Batterham, R. (2000). www.isr.gov.au/science/review

2 Miles, D. (2000). www.isr.gov.au/industry/summit/

3 Personal communication. FASTS Mathematical Science Issues, 2000

*Participation
of students in advanced level mathematics courses
*

**The
finding**: The number of year 12 students studying advanced mathematical
courses continues to decline, a consistent trend since 1990.

**Solution**:
A national campaign to promote awareness of the benefits of continuing the study
of mathematics at the highest levels for as long as possible and which
highlights the benefits to long term career prospects.

**Teacher
supply
**

**The
finding**: Few mathematics graduates are choosing teaching as a career at a
time

when
many experienced and well-qualified mathematics teachers are retiring. Many
primary teachers need further studies in mathematics and it is estimated that
about 40% of junior secondary students are taught mathematics by a teacher who
has little or no background in mathematics and no studies in the teaching of
mathematics.

**Solution**:
Greatly improved incentives must be found to attract mathematics graduates to
teaching and also students into mathematics and thence to teaching. Secondary
teachers teaching out of field should be given study leave to develop
appropriate mathematical knowledge and skills. Professional development for
primary teachers should be enhanced to include more opportunities for
improvement in content knowledge. Teacher education for primary teachers should
be re-examined to ensure that sufficient and appropriate mathematical content is
taught and learnt

**Mathematics
in the universities
**

**The
finding**: A decline of some 25% in staff since 1995, a brain drain of both
experienced and new researchers, marginalised or restructured departments, fewer
applications for research grants, few if any new appointments, difficulties in
making appointments in key areas such as financial mathematics and statistics,
and some universities no longer offering a three year degree majoring in
mathematics or statistics.

**Solution**:
Implementation of the Chief Scientist’s and ISIG reports with special
attention to be paid to the mathematical sciences as the world-wide demand for
excellent mathematical scientists far outstrips supply. Greater support for
existing research and teaching in the mathematical sciences in the universities,
disincentives for collaborative teaching to be removed and the visibility of the
mathematical sciences to be enhanced. A national centre with adjunct state
centres, possibly on the lines of the Canadian Fields Institute 4 , should be
established.

---------------------------------

4
The author visited the Fields Institute this year and holds a copy of the 1999
report. See also

www.fields.utoronto.ca
and Chapter 8 in National Committee for Mathematics (1996). Mathematical

sciences:
Adding to Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, pp.
99-107.

[Background]