Foundations for the future – the STEM pipeline (Day 159)

Foundations for the future – the STEM pipeline (Day 159)

2nd November 2014

The Australian Government will invest $12 million to improve the focus (STEM) subjects in primary and secondary schools.

Routinely there are calls and initiatives to boost the number of school pupils who pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in school and beyond.

In the UK there are different campaigns from Government, industry, charitable organisations and professional bodies. Many of you will have heard about IChemE’s whynotchemeng initiative.

It’s useful to remind ourselves that there are challenges and strategies in place in other areas of the world too.

This month, the Australian government announced an AUS$12 million investment in school STEM subjects. There is a realisation that the STEM skillset is essential to national and international economic growth and competitiveness.

The investment will provide money for mathematics and IT resources along with a pilot programme to support the skills that graduates will need to make sure they are prepared for the workplace and to be successful innovators.

In addition, Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, also announced that he will personally chair a new Commonwealth Science Council, comprised of science, engineering and business leaders in industry and academia.

Although there are no chemical engineers on this panel, I’m sure the skillsets will be considered.

Professor Ian Chubb AC, Australia's chief scientist.

This newly formed Council replaces the prime minister’s Science Engineering and ­Innovation Council – which last met over a year ago. The new group also overlaps with the group established by the Australian chief scientist, professor Ian Chubb, to advise on strategies and priorities. The STEM Industry and Education Advisory Group

I hope this initiative scrutinises the needs of industry and the economy and all parties take steps to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

This is welcome news but I know it is a small step. Australia’s STEM community should probably feel positive about this announcement but it may be met by some cynicism.

Following the last election, there is no longer a science minister in the Australian government. This is something that deeply concerns me and colleagues in Australia.

In the UK, we are lucky to have several chief scientific advisers across different government departments, including IChemE past president, John Perkins, as the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The world is still on the path to recovery following the global economic downturn but manufacturing and innovation are vital to recovery and future growth. I’ve mentioned this before, but, like many of you, I reiterate the importance of a long term view.

Investment in science and engineering from grass roots education and skills to supporting future technologies is vital. The timeframe goes beyond political election cycles and ad hoc initiatives are not the solution. Delivery is an essential follow-up to discussion.