A number of colleagues, both in Australia and abroad, have queried with me our reasons for taking such a strong position on the threats to dramatically cut mathematics at USQ. I should give a little background here, directly connecting the challenges facing USQ and a number of other universities (the University of New England is high on the radar in this respect), to the national skills shortage and the severe shortage of trained mathematics teachers in Australia. It will be clear to avid readers of Terry’s blogs that at least part of the material below is treated elsewhere, but it is probably beneficial to have a separate account of the issues on this particular site.
There’s an excellent extended article in the Australian today by Andrew Trounson entitled “Best brains won’t make the numbers“. It covers the growing shortage in Australia of qualified maths teachers, as well as of other professions requiring quantitative thinking in maths and statistics. While the primary and secondary schools in Australia are still maintaining high standards of maths literacy, there are real problems now with the quality and extent of maths education at the tertiary level (the situation with USQ being a particularly extreme example).
One encouraging item in the article, though, was that the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, has taken a position on the fact that increased funding for mathematics and statistics has been diverted by university administrators to other priorities:
Yesterday, Education Minister Julia Gillard put universities on notice that the Government will hold them accountable on money for particular policy aims such as boosting mathematics and statistics.
“Government holds universities accountable for the funds we supply universities and you should expect to see accountability measures in that area of the budget and in relation to budget funding generally,” Gillard says in response to questions about funding for mathematics and statistics departments.
The Government is considering the possibility of funding accountability through a new long-term funding system known as compacts that is being looked at by Denise Bradley’s higher education review.
But a new system isn’t expected to be in place until 2010.
More generally, it does seem that reform of the way Australian universities are funded is the only real long-term solution to the current state of affairs.