Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Australia’s Innovation System

Authors: Geoff Prince
Publication Date: July 31, 2014
Publisher: AMSI
Pdf: Download

Key Points

There are significant retention problems at various points on the study and research training pipeline in the mathematical sciences. These problems choke the supply of mathematically competent professionals in all the STEM disciplines and limit private sector access to a group which drive innovation in our competitor economies.

Improved private sector employment pathways for research trained graduates are desperately required in Australia to grow industry-university engagement, which by its very nature is focussed on innovation.

Australia must have a national STEM strategy in order to bring coherence to, and adoption of, state and federal government policies and incentives in areas critical to innovation and productivity growth.

Introduction

Individuals drive innovation. In this context Australia is increasingly struggling to get enough of the right people, let alone get them in the right place at the right time with access to the right money. This is particularly true in the mathematical sciences where we are experiencing significant retention problems, worst amongst women, at senior high school, undergraduate, honours and postgraduate levels. Our graduation rates are a fraction of the OECD average and, with 40% of year 7-10 maths classes being taught out of area, they won’t be getting better anytime soon . The impact of this on all STEM disciplines is acute. The security of supply of mathematically trained professionals in finance, engineering and biotechnology is under threat and this must be considered in any review of Australia’s innovation system.

The often indispensable role of mathematics and statistics in innovation is well-known: optimisation, information security, internet searching, biotech, communications, Big Data, etc. It is not only the discipline’s professionals who drive this innovation but mathematically competent professionals from the areas of application themselves. It is our working hypothesis that innovation in advanced economies is proportional to the human mathematical capital of those economies. At the moment Australia has what might be called a mathematical deficit. This is a structural impediment to innovation and productivity growth. On the plus side Australia has a very high quality mathematical and statistical resource in its universities, government agencies and finance sector1. With the right policy directions we should be able to leverage this resource to support innovation and reduce our retention vulnerabilities in the education pipeline.

AMSI has 35 members across the universities, government agencies and the learned societies. Our research internship program has placed more than 100 PhD students, from all disciplines, into projects with the private sector and the public agencies. Our higher education programs have serviced more than 2000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the mathematical sciences. On the basis of this experience we make the following observations concerning obstructions and drivers of innovation.

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