As most of you know, the **National Strategic Review of Mathematical Sciences Research in Australia **was released three years ago, detailing the specific problems of mathematics and statistics in Australia, including the low mathematics and statistics graduate turn-outs, low secondary advanced mathematics uptake, under-qualified school mathematics teachers, narrowing of mathematical research focus and the increasing demand for the mathematically skilled in business, industry, science and technology. Recently, a report commissioned by the Go8 was released echoing similar sentiments and probed for more to be done at the school level. One of the most positive outcomes of these reviews has been their media coverage. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen:

- The Australian:
- “The numbers don’t add up in maths class”, by Nalini Joshi, March 24
- “Numbers game we can win”, by Mary O’Kane, March 24
- “Declining numeracy is shaping our future”, by Guy Healy, March 17
- “Group of Eight Review’s sum of all fears: maths is in serious decline”, by Lucy Hood, March 10
- “Call to set maths whiz targets”, by Andrew Trouson, March 11
- “Mathematics students in serious decline”, by Luke Slattery and Nicolas Perpitch, March 10

- The Age:
- Sydney Morning Herald:
- The Funneled Web:
- “CSIRO tackling Australia’s maths crisis”, media release, March 11

All but one of the articles above has been an excellent and accurate piece on the crisis; Mary O’Kane (NSW chief scientist) has shown that she is not completely on top of the issue. The main problem is that the message, although loud and clear, is being sent by the mathematicians and statisticians, and is largely being ignored by the government and the opposition. What would greatly help our case is if industry and allied organisations could also raise awareness about the issue. We have already seen this with CSIRO’s recent response. It would, for instance, be interesting to know what the various Australian engineering institutes think about Mary O’Kane’s article. I’m sure they would not agree with:

Engineering, in particular, which has identified shortages of professionals, is an ideal candidate for reconsidering its approaches to maths. Engineering faculties could profitably be looking at alternative curriculums that allow students to enter with no formal maths prerequisites and to finish in minimum time.

We should be extremely appreciative of the efforts of The Australian Mathematical Society, AMSI and our leading mathematicians for the efforts behind the reviews and push for change (esp., Hyam Rubinstein, Peter Hall, Nalini Joshi, Jacqui Rammage, Cheryl Praeger, Geoff Prince and many others). We should also be extremely grateful for the media coverage, which has been generous. What we should hope for now is that respected and noteworthy authorities outside of mathematics and statistics come forward and express their views on mathematics in Australia.

Since this post has been written, Hyam Rubinstein has written a letter to the Higher Ed section of “The Australian” pointing out some of the inaccuracies in Mary O’Kane’s arguments. You can find it here:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/letters/few-catch-up/story-e6frgcox-1225844441773

Perhaps one of the reasons that the review is ‘largely being ignored by the government and the opposition’ is the absence of any significant quantification of the projected ‘shortage’, and the apparent absence of extensive input from non-academic or non-government representatives. In order to for a report of this kind to persuade, it needs hard data and ideas on the likely demand from a range of interests – manufacturing, finance, agriculture, information technology and so forth.

Similarly – as with the earlier report in 2006 – there isn’t much consideration of whether or not university mathematics needs to a major syllabus restructure, or modify the way in which it is taught in order to better meet future demands. Looks like as far as the universities are concerned, it’ll be pretty much ‘business as usual’.

In the absence of these considerations, the report comes across as special pleading from yet another sectional interest group that wants a bigger government handout. There are many such groups: take a number and wait …