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Making Australia a global STEM superpower

Health Industry Hub | June 25, 2021 |
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Medical News: Australia should make a bold play to become a global STEM superpower with an escalation of our investment in wealth-generating R&D.

We should lift R&D investment to 3% of GDP, develop a strategy to extend crucial science and technology capabilities, and reverse an alarming slide in maths and science skills of Australian school students.     

The proposals are outlined in a new policy vision from Science & Technology Australia (STA), the peak body representing more than 88,000 scientists and technologists.

The statement sets out the sector’s stance on how to harness the power of science and technology to create new jobs and safeguard key industries. 

STA President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said the latest R&D investment ramp-up by Australia’s biggest economic rivals should be a mind-focusing moment.

“Australia should set itself a goal to become a global STEM superpower – and have bigger ambitions on both strategy and spending,” Dr Brownlie said.

“A national R&D target of 3% of GDP would make us more competitive with nations like the US, UK, Israel and China, which are heavily backing science and technology to drive their COVID recovery and grow their economies.”

“An ambitious strategy to level up Australia’s R&D spending should begin with a new $2.4 billion research translation and commercialisation fund and a new initiative to train ‘bench to boardroom scientists’ to turbo-charge research commercialisation in Australia like our competitors.” 

At the recent Science Meets Parliament event at the National Press Club, Dr Cathy Foley highlighted four key areas critical in advancing Australia’s STEM capacity; embracing the new digital tools of science, such as AI and quantum technologies; education and adopting new ways of learning; fostering diversity in the STEM sector; and improving access to information, such as increasing open access publications. 

Reflecting on the STEM sector overall, statistically, there is a lack of certainty in job prospects for women. Dr Foley noted how critical it was to support women in their mid-career period, which can often be a hurdle or lull in their trajectory. Also she spoke of “killing the angel in the house”, referring to how women are socialised to take on a “nice” or agreeable nature and therefore tend not to speak up for themselves – whether it be when they are experiencing harassment or not being adequately recognised for their work.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said another urgent challenge outlined in the vision is to fix an alarming slide in the maths and science skills of Australian school students. 

The average test results of an Australian 15-year-old in maths in 2018 were more than a full year of schooling behind compared to 2003. In science, they were almost a full year behind compared to 2006 test results.

“Exciting frontier technologies in computing, materials science or technology rely on data and analysis. The next generations of young Australians will need strong maths skills to work in all those huge future industries.”

“We need swift action to fix the lack of specialist maths and science teachers in our schools and a major new initiative to inspire school students to grow their skills, knowledge and love of maths, science and engineering.”

“This will be crucial to ensure Australia has the workforce it needs to be a global STEM superpower.”


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