By Kelly Strzepek

An interesting article came my way the other day that discusses the outcomes of a  report spearheaded by our former lord and master here at the ANU, Professor Ian Chubb. No longer our Vice Chancellor, as Australia’s Chief Scientist he commissioned nationwide research into preferences for study at universities and how this will meet the needs for Australia’s science and technology future. There is great concern that while enrolment in the sciences is keeping pace with other disciplines it leaves little room for us to provide the teaching capability and technological expertise that will be required for a more sustainable and prosperous Australia. Our ability to remain competitive on the international stage, and provide scientific solutions to “food and water security, climate change and urban population growth” all hinge on producing more high calibre science graduates.

The 80-page report, “Unhealthy Science? University natural and physical sciences 2002-2009/2010″, revealed that health, management and commerce saw the greatest increase in student enrolments whereas science had the fourth lowest growth rates. One major concern is that the distinct lack of growth in the disciplines that drive innovation in the country, namely chemistry, mathematics and physics. Furthermore, almost half the students did not study these critical subject beyond the first year and 26% of the average degree was made up of subjects outside of the sciences . The composition of bachelor degrees has remained similar over the decade with the earth sciences still making up only 4-5%.

I find this  a little surprising. With so much attention on sustainability and the impacts of human-induced climate change I would have hoped that this generation of university students would see the importance of taking the fundamental sciences, and then applying these skills to solve some of the many problems our environment and society face. Are we not marketing ourselves well enough? Do people not realise how incredibly interesting and relevant the earth sciences are? Who do you think informs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? But also, are people not fascinated with how the world works? Are teachers not able to instil this sense of wonder? If not then may I add that Ian Chubb is a very large man and one to be reckoned with. If he tells you to go and study science then you should go and study science. Really.

To read the article in full, click here, and stay tuned for the Chief Scientist’s Health of Australian Science Report due this month.