Campus Review: Australian science healthy but vulnerable, says chief scientist

Agricultural sciences, physics, mathematics and chemistry have been identified as “vulnerable” by Australia’s chief scientist.

May 30, 2012

Launching his report into the state of the Australian science system last week, Ian Chubb told the National Press Club that although it was healthy overall, there were some challenges that needed to be addressed.

Professor Chubb also said that there were not enough people studying engineering to meet demand.

“We should be proud of what our scientists, our engineers and our mathematicians achieve. We are well represented in the international arena; our researchers are some of the most productive in the world,” Professor Chubb said.

“But the future prosperity of Australia is dependent on having a strong supply of graduates in the right areas coming through the education system. There are some areas of expertise that are crucial to our national interest which are lacking what they need to prosper.”

The report, The Health of Australian Science, identifies a more strategic funding system, and improving the relationship between science and industry, as areas that could be developed.

Professor Chubb also told the National Press Club in Canberra that Australia needed to develop a culture that appreciated science education.

“The science degree prepares students for a lifetime of critical thinking, a drive to find evidence and an understanding of how our society fits into the broader picture of the world, all of which are invaluable for the development of a prosperous Australia,” he said.

“[But] around the world, and in Australia, there are numbers of scientists who are distrusted, accused of bending to political pressure, of having vested, even venal, interests, and their expertise often aggressively challenged publicly. Even worse, probably, our younger generations appear to be disinterested – even disengaged from science – even though they use its applications every day: from their food, to their pens, to shoes, to clothes, to smartphones, iPods, televisions and laptops.”

• The chief scientist’s report can be downloaded at www.chiefscientist.gov.au

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