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Uni maths bar set too low: mathematicians

Mid-level maths should be made a pre-requisite for students looking to enrol in science, engineering or commerce degrees according to a new ten-year plan for mathematics in Australia to be launched today by the Federal education minister.

Currently only 14 per cent of Australian universities require science students to have studied intermediate mathematics in Year 12.

The plan, developed by the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences, makes a dozen key recommendations including increasing professional development for out-of-field maths teachers and a new national mathematics research centre to link industry and research. It also highlights an urgent need to address the low participation of women and rural Australians in the mathematical sciences.

Professor Nalini Joshi, chair of the National Committee, said that improving the mathematics skills of the next generation is vital for future workforce demands.

“We are in the era of big data but what good is data without the ability to interpret and analyse it? We need people who have the skills to take that raw information and turn it into something useful,” Professor Joshi said.

“Maths underpins just about everything – from the technology in your smartphone to the banking and financial systems that support our economy to how we measure and predict our health. Maths is also the cornerstone of all scientific endeavour – so if we are training new scientists without a good understanding of maths, Australian science will soon be in trouble,” she said.

National Committee member and Director of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute Professor Geoff Prince said the plan was developed to outline the challenges and opportunities for the future of maths in Australia.

“This plan is a clear vision for governments, universities and industry to shape mathematical sciences over the next 10 years, starting now. Fundamental to that vision is education. We know that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations will need Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills, and that maths is at the heart of this skill set. If we’re not preparing our teachers and students the way we should, Australia will be left behind by the rest of the world,” Professor Prince said.

“At a time when demand for mathematicians and statisticians across many industries is going up, enrolments in school and university maths are going down. This critical mathematical deficit needs our urgent attention,” he said.

The ten-year plan was developed after extensive consultation with mathematical scientists in schools, universities, government agencies and industry.

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