Australia will have no mathematicians working in its universities by 2012 if trends continue, a report by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering suggests.
The country is experiencing a slump in the teaching of physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering. It is so severe that these fields could disappear from the nation's universities over the next 20 years.
The number of secondary-school students taking courses in physics, advanced mathematics and chemistry over the past 20 years has also fallen. The academy says that if this decline continues, these subjects will disappear from the school curriculum by 2020.
Academy president Tim Besley said Australia's capacity to develop ideas and products was in danger of being compromised. He said: "Our future rides on the back of Australian science, engineering and technology. The health and wealth of our society and our environment depend on national investment in these areas."
The academy has launched a "rescue package" on behalf of four national organisations: the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, the Australian Institute for Physics, the Australian Mathematical Sciences Council and the Institution of Engineers, Australia.
Mr Besley said the package contained 19 ways of restoring Australia's capacity in the four disciplines, beginning with a "total review and rejuvenation of the way we teach mathematics and sciences in schools". "This needs to be coupled with a national campaign to promote the wonderful job opportunities science and engineering offer," he said.
Federal education minister David Kemp said the government had recognised the importance of the sciences and had placed them at the centre of its plan to assure Australia's future in innovation.