The federal government could use funding agreements with Australian universities to force them to make science and maths a priority in teaching degrees.
In a speech delivered in Sydney on Monday, education minister Simon Birmingham signalled that the government was willing to use university funding as a way of addressing falling participation rates in high school maths and science.
The government says that in 2013 one in five year 7 to 10 general science teachers had not completed a year of university study in that area, a figure Birmingham said was “unacceptable”.
On Monday he said states and territories should “be willing to make clear to universities where their employment priorities lie” and create incentives for more students to consider specialising in maths and science subjects.
“Between better workforce planning and smarter use of technology every high school should have access to specialist teachers to teach specialist science and maths subjects,” he said.
“And we should strive to achieve this within the next five to ten years.”
While Birmingham conceded the federal government cannot force states to hire teachers with maths or science backgrounds, he indicated he could “influence” the teaching students entering university by tying it to university enrolment funding.
“If need be, federal funding powers over university places could be used to help the states to influence enrolments to secure the science teachers we need for the future,” he said.
It comes after a report from Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel which noted a long-term decline in year 12 students enrolling in science and challenging maths subjects.
The report, released in April, found the number of students choosing science had dropped from 55% in 2002 to 51% in 2013. And while maths participation had remained steady, Finkel’s report found a trend towards students choosing easier subjects.
The Finkel report argued that not enough universities required mathematics subjects for degrees – saying it is only a prerequisite for five of 37 universities offering a bachelor of science, four of 31 for a bachelor of commerce and one of 34 for an engineering degree.
He also called for a complete overhaul of the Advanced Tertiary Admission Rank system, or Atar, saying it encouraged students to game the system by aiming for higher scores by doing less demanding subjects.
Source of the notice: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jul/09/university-funding-could-be-tied-to-maths-and-science-teaching-push