University staff cuts

According to a brief report in the Australian today, La Trobe and Victoria University are to shed up to 450 staff in both forced and voluntary redundancies, apparently in response to losses in their endowments.  Melbourne University has also been laying off staff in the arts faculty, although this is more to do with their restructuring plan that intends to replace many traditional degrees with a much smaller number of broad-based degrees.

I was also recently informed that large numbers of staff cuts are likely to be imminent in Italian universities, as this article from Nature reports; the Berlusconi government has significantly reduced the funding allocated to both temporary and permanent research positions.

National Curriculum in Mathematics

The National Curriculum Board has just initiated its public consultation period for its draft proposed curriculum on mathematics (concurrently with similar consultations on science, history, and English), as reported on recently in the Australian, the Courier-Mail, the Age, and elsewhere.  The draft, which is to be implemented in 2011, draws upon the National Declaration of Educational Goals for Young Australians, the National Numeracy Review discussed earlier on this blog, as well as the report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel from the US.  Proposals include making maths a compulsory topic all the way to Year 12 (but offering a range of levels to take maths after Year 10), to encourage the use of computers and other digital technologies, to teach numeracy skills concurrently with more traditional mathematical topics, and avoid repetition or low-level activities that do not stimulate thought or inquiry.  On the other hand, the draft also notes the need to keep the curriculum simple and streamlined, with the key themes and topics being made clear to both teachers and students, and to avoid alienating a significant number of students with complexity; one can err by being too ambitious as well as by not being ambitious enough.

The consultation period ends at the end of Term 4 (which, I assume, means mid-December).

Math skills suffer in U.S., study finds

The New York Times today has an article entitled  “Math Skills Suffer in U.S., Study Finds“, based on a study to be published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.  The study found that mathematically gifted children in the U.S. were not represented as often in mathematics competitions, camps, and similar activities as in other countries, especially when restricting attention to female, native-born, or non-Asian children.  Mathematically talented girls, in particular, appear to be discouraged by social and other pressures from pursuing careers in mathematics.  These results are unfortunately somewhat unsurprising, but the extent to which they are present as documented in the study is rather stark.  The New York Times article also interviewed several mathematically high-achieving young women (e.g. Olympiad medalists) in the U.S., who described some of these pressures in more personal terms.

It seems to me that there are some parallels between the U.S. experience and that in Australia nowadays; see for instance the remarks in the New York Times article on how sports achievement among youth is given far higher visibility than science or mathematical achievement.

Sackett interview

Penny Sackett, the recently appointed new Chief Scientist for Australia, and a professor of astronomy at ANU, gave an interview this week on ABC radio on various scientific topics (audio available here).  I was especially pleased to see her support for pure research as well as applied research, given that mathematical research is often placed at a disadvantage due to an emphasis on immediate applications.

[Via the Funneled Web.]