Australia's top science adviser yesterday warned the nation that it was time to feel a "sense of urgency" about its slipping science and technology expertise or risk falling behind the rest of the world scientifically and economically.
Ian Chubb, the Australian government's chief scientist, made the remarks while unveiling a position paper calling for a strategic plan to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the nation.
A neuroscientist and former vice-chancellor of the Australian National University in Canberra, Chubb pointed to studies showing that "young people in schools and universities are not acquiring the STEM skills we need for our future prosperity." He said that although Australia is now not far behind global STEM leaders, the country "lacks the national urgency found in the United States, East Asia, and much of Western Europe."
Moving forward requires reaffirming "a social compact" with the general public to ensure community support for STEM education and research, he said. Earning public trust and support "should not be taken as an easy ride," he added, and will require strengthening research integrity and also supporting work in the social sciences and humanities.
Improving STEM education "brings it all together," he said. The position paper calls for increasing support for teachers to keep abreast of their disciplines. He also said that the government has a key role to play in providing "patient support" for fundamental and curiosity-driven research, while also ensuring the flow of new ideas into technological development by building links between business and publicly funded research agencies and universities. The final element of a national strategy should be international cooperation. "The world's challenges are shared. So are the solutions," he said. The position paper specifically mentions closer ties with Australia's neighbors in an Asian-Area Research Zone.
Chubb described the paper as "a call for a strategy" rather than a specific plan. That will need to be worked out with the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council and the relevant governmental agencies that would be charged with putting strategic actions into practice.