The State of Mathematical Sciences in Australia

Hyam Rubinstein wrote an opinion piece recently on the Funneled Web on “The State of Mathematical Sciences in Australia“, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of Australian mathematics today.  Strengths include internationally recognised research excellence, and a strong tradition in mathematics competition; weaknesses include severe shortages of maths and stats-trained graduates in the workforce (both in teaching and in industry), and a lack of a visible “maths industry” lobby at the federal level.

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2 Responses

  1. Well, according to the Australian today, now it is the maths department at VU in the firing line.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25646320-25918,00.html

  2. In his opinion piece, Professor Rubinstein notes that despite the ‘National Strategic Review of Mathematical Sciences’ released some years ago, mathematics barely rates a mention in the budget or the Bradley review of higher education.
    Now, there are several factors that may be at work, such as fact that the relevant ministers are not qualified in science, and also the side effects of the global economic crisis. But I also suggest that one factor may be the serious flaws in the review itself.
    The overwhelming majority of the review personnel are from universities. As a result, the focus of the review is much more on the ‘producers’ than the ‘consumers’ of mathematics. The review provides pages of statistics from universities on student numbers, trends, and expenditure, but little hard data on the demand for mathematics. This is particularly evident in the very few pages it devotes to private industry. It discusses several areas of potential application of mathematics, such as banking, environmental risk assessment, manufacturing, and so forth, but does not quantify the actual demand in these areas, nor does it address the issue of whether current university courses provide the necessary skills. It admits that the links between university mathematicians and industry are slight, but offers no analysis as to why this is, or what could be done to improve the situation. Indeed, there is very little in the review to suggest that universities should change anything that they do: it is basically a tendentious argument for more government funding to support ‘business as usual’.
    Professor Rubinstein also notes an ongoing government demand for more submissions, plans and evidence. To put it in academic terms, I suggest that he and his co-workers have submitted a ‘failed’ thesis, but they’ve been given a chance to ‘revise and resubmit’. For their own sake, if nothing else, I hope that they take it.

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