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Last Wednesday (20 May) Professor Ian Chubb, AC, Chief Scientist of Australia, and a number of select panellists held a discussion at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (Powerhouse Museum) focusing upon the theme of competitiveness through collaboration.

Curated by the Committee of Sydney, Collaborate to Compete was a chance to explore new opportunities for universities and business to work together to promote STEM.

To promote discussion and provoke some direction, Professor Chubb deliberately delivered provocative statements to the panellists and audience.

I’m going to tell you about the things that I think we [Australia] have to do. I don’t want you to think… that we don’t do some things well. I will say at the outset, we do indeed do some things very well,” said Mr Chubb.

“There are some things which we do in this country in respect to STEM which I think we can be particularly proud. They’re in the past and present at best and we have to map a way for the future that is going to enable Australia to keep pace with what’s happening elsewhere. What used to be is not what is going to take us all the way forward.

“We’re waiting for students to get the message that science and mathematics are too important to drop at Year 10. We now have the lowest number of science students in Year 12 that we have had in 20 years. It’s been a big drop and a steady decline. We have 31000 more students in Year 12 over those 20 years, but 8000 fewer students studying physics, 4000 fewer studying chemistry, 12000 fewer studying biology than we did 20 years ago, notwithstanding the growth in numbers.

“We see the outline of a destination for Australia but we don’t seem to be moving towards it with the urgency and commitment it deserves. I think I would argue a lack of planning, a lack of vision and perhaps a lack of courage from all of us, however we define it, we seem to be stranded while other countries accelerate.

“You can’t miss that sense of momentum elsewhere. The United States have committed to train ten thousand more outstanding science and mathematics teachers and they claim to have one million more science and mathematics graduates within the decade from their universities – about a 30% increase over that period of time.”

Sarah-Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan

Panellist Sarah Vaughan, Director Developer Evangelism and Experience at Microsoft Australia, said how excited she was to be a part of the collaboration to make a change in the sector.

“I wish I had heard Professor Chubb’s speech when I was making a decision in Year 10 about what I was going to do. It’s only later in life that I’m seeing the treasure trove that is science, mathematics, engineering and, of course, technology can do,” said Ms Vaughan.

“We see more and more every year that it’s not just government and it’s not just institutions, its industry’s job to step up and help our country be more innovative and encourage students to do great things.

“When we partner with people we traditionally wouldn’t partner with we can do some incredible things. I’m really excited about the theme of competitiveness through collaboration and I think we, as an industry, have to get over wanting to win all the time and focus on what we can do to contribute to future of our young kids.”

Kate-Jordan

Kate Jordan

In delivering the vote of thanks for the day, Kate Jordan, Board member of the Committee of Sydney, said:

“One of our Mantras is that we need to collaborate to compete. What we’re looking to provide at the Committee of Sydney is a platform for collaboration between the private sector, between government and education institutions and the not-for-profit sector. Today is a wonderful example of that.”

“We’re also passionate about the fact that we need to raise the level of awareness and also the level of participation in STEM subjects because of its incredible importance and the input it provides to the knowledge economy.”

Images: Microsoft and Clayton Utz