Chief Scientist

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Alan Finkel to be Australia's new Chief Scientist

16  November 2015

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Engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dr Alan Finkel, is to be  Australia’s new Chief Scientist. He will take over the role once the sitting Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, finishes his five-year stint in the job on December 31 this year..

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Alan Finkel

Finkel was most recently Chancellor of Monash University, a post he has held since 2008. He is also the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

Finkel is an outspoken advocate for science awareness and popularisation. He is a patron of the Australian Science Media Centre and has helped launch popular science magazine, Cosmos.

He is also an advocate for nuclear power, arguing that “nuclear electricity should be considered as a zero-emissions contributor to the energy mix” in Australia.

In the 1980s, he established Axon Instruments, a company which supplies tools for cellular neuroscience and drug discovery which was later bought by a US firm and listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

In stark contrast to the climate-denialist image that plagued the Abbott government, Dr Finkel has publicly advocated for nuclear power and electric cars to help reduce Australia’s carbon emissions in the fight against global warming.

In an essay this year in Cosmos,  Dr Finkel revealed that the electricity in his home was  “100 per cent … green”.

Electric cars were the “transport technology of the future”, the engineer and entrepreneur wrote.

“One day, everyone’s driving could be close to emissions-free, like mine is. The more of us who buy electric cars and power them with green electricity the faster that day will come.”

His successor as Chancellor of Monash University, Simon McKeon said that one notable failure among Dr Finkel’s CV of successes, his time as chief technology officer at Better Place, would one day be viewed more favourably.

“Better Place will just be shown as a company that was ahead of its time. Science is all about risk,” he said.

Better Place, which aimed to supply battery-switching services for electric vehicles, filed for bankruptcy in Israel in 2013 after burning through $US850 million (then worth about $885 million) in private funds.

The Australian Academy of Science (AAS) President, Professor Andrew Holmes, has welcomed the expected appointment of Alan Finkel to the Chief Scientist’s role.

“The Academy is looking forward to the government’s announcement, but Professor Finkel would be an excellent choice for this position. I’m confident he would speak strongly and passionately on behalf of Australian science, particularly in his advice to government,” he said.

“The AAS and ATSE have never been closer; we have worked together well on important issues facing Australia’s research community, including our recent partnership on the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.”

Professor Holmes also thanked outgoing Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, for his strong leadership for science in Australia, including establishing ACOLA as a trusted source of expert, interdisciplinary advice to the Commonwealth Science Council.

“Since his appointment, Professor Chubb has been a tireless advocate of the fundamental importance of science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills as the key to the country’s future prosperity, and a driving force behind the identification of strategic research priorities for the nation,” Holmes said.


The ConversationTim Dean, Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Alan Finkel appointed Australia’s next Chief Scientist

National Science and Research Priorities announced

26 May 2015

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  The Commonwealth government has announced new national Science and Research Priorities and corresponding Practical Research Challenges, designed “to increase investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia and its place in the world.”

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research2The nine cross-disciplinary priorities are food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, advanced manufacturing, environmental change and health.

The government notes that, like other countries, Australia’s capacity to support research is finite. With diverse investments in research across multiple agencies and many processes, it is necessary to ensure that we build our capacity to pursue research of particular importance to us as a nation.

Universities Australia has commended the Federal Government’s setting of the science and research priorities.

Anne-Marie Lansdown, Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia, the announcement underlines the critical role of science and research in solving national challenges and improving the productivity and prosperity of Australia.

Research is vital to all aspects of ensuring Australia’s future, as is evidenced by the breadth and diversity of the priorities announced [26 May 2015].

Australia’s universities are undertaking research every day that improves people’s lives, from developing ground-breaking new medical treatments, to creating innovative technologies that transform how we work.

Universities Australia hopes that the priorities will lead to increased public investment in science and research, with targeted funding to address these critical areas.

Australia dumbs down?

29 May 2015

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  Australia is betting on plumbers and coffee-shop owners over scientists and researchers to drive the nation’s next wave of economic growth, writes Michael Heath in BloombergBusiness.

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Coffee

The country that brought you refrigerators, black-box flight recorders, bionic ears and Wi-Fi will cut its research budget by 7 percent over the next 12 months, and another 10% in the following three years. At the same time it’s offering tax cuts and write-offs in this year’s budget for small firms to buy equipment like espresso machines and lawnmowers as the centerpiece of a plan to build a “stronger and more prosperous Australia.”

The government is reducing spending in the face of budget shortfalls after a 30% drop in commodity prices in 12 months and an end to the country’s mining investment boom. Helping small businesses to pick up some of the slack has lifted consumer confidence to its highest in 16 months and boosted shares of retailers like Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. and JB Hi-Fi Ltd.

“Having this reliance on the bottom end of the economy, like small businesses, is a short-term fix,” said Andrew Hughes, a lecturer at the College of Business and Economics at Australian National University. “Cutting back on research is insanity.”

Counting on Calculators

Every country in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development bar Australia has a plan to grow its scientific enterprise to help transition into technology, innovation and development, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb said.

“For 20 years, we have presided over declining levels of participation in science and mathematics” while the country assured itself that students will be fine with calculators, Chubb wrote this month in an article on his website. “I think about the sort of jobs a child in school today might want to do in 10, 20, 50 years. And I wonder, which of those jobs will not require an understanding of science?”

Australian school students underperform in science and mathematics tests compared with every other high-income economy in Asia apart from New Zealand, according to a report issued this month by the 34-nation OECD.

“We’re already losing our power in the brains market because we’re up against China, India, Japan and South Korea who spend so much more on research and development,” Hughes said. “We need to think long-term.”

Global Innovation

Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane in March said the country ranked 81st out of 143 in a global innovation efficiency measure, putting it “close to average in turning ideas to our advantage.” The government is spending about A$9 billion ($7 billion) a year on science in what is “a conservative financial environment,” he said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Tuesday the government had nine new science and research priorities and would work with universities and industry to identify projects.

“We have finite resources and need to be strategic in how we invest,” he said in a statement.

Researcher Danielle Edwards turned down a A$385,000 research grant in Australia because she saw little prospect of further employment in her native country.

“Australia has become a world-leader already in many scientific fields due to tremendous talent,” said Edwards, 37, an evolutionary biologist in California. “It is losing that talent through a lack of investment. Many of my friends have either left science or the country.”

The government needs to reverse job cuts to its national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and provide better investment in science to help future productivity, she said.

Black Box, Wi-Fi

From the time James Harrison built the world’s first practical, commercial refrigerator in 1854, to the invention in the 1990s of Wi-Fi by John O’Sullivan’s radio-astronomy team at the CSIRO, Australia has a history of turning inventions into commercial successes.

Yet the nation now ranks in the bottom seven countries based on government spending on research and development as a proportion of gross domestic product, according to the latest OECD scoreboard.

Australia isn’t alone in trying to bolster lower-skilled careers as economies look to shore up manufacturing and fill an increasing number of service-oriented jobs. Both Singapore and South Korea have urged students to consider skipping university.

Singapore, though, committed to increasing its R&D spending 20 percent for 2011-2015 over the previous five years, while South Korea spent the second-highest proportion of gross domestic product on research among OECD countries in 2013, behind Israel.

Manufacturing Shutdown

Australia’s boost for baristas is partly a result of successive governments’ failure during the decade-long mining boom to prevent a hollowing out the manufacturing sector as the currency strengthened and investment flowed to the mines. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. plan to quit manufacturing in the country within two years, while Alcoa Inc. last year closed an aluminum smelter and two mills.

Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said the research cuts announced this month by Treasurer Joe Hockey in the budget will make matters worse.

“Against the backdrop of low commodity prices and the downturn in traditional industries, a prudent approach to stimulating economic renewal is to invest in, not cut, wealth-generating activities like higher education, research and innovation,” she said.

Science contributes $145 bn directly to GDP

Chief Scientist    |   25 March  2015

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A report released by Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist – The importance of advanced physical and mathematical sciences to the Australian economy – has found that advanced physical and mathematical sciences make a direct contribution to the Australian economy of around $145 billion a year, or about 11% of GDP.   When the flow-on impacts of these sciences are included, the report finds the economic benefit expands to about $292 billion a year, or 22% of the nation’s economic activity.

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Chubb2Chubb says that for the first time we now have the numbers on the table showing the importance of these sciences to the Australian economy:

It is too easy to take the benefits of science and innovation for granted, and this report shows that the knowledge from these disciplines supports and enhances economic activity which benefits all Australians.

Australian Academy of Science President Professor Andrew Holmes said the report was a significant step in improving public awareness of the economic contributions of Australian science.

Chubb says the figures in the report are conservative and only include the economic benefits of discoveries and innovations implemented in the past 20 years in physics, chemistry, earth sciences and the mathematical sciences.  It did not examine the economic benefits of biology and life sciences, which would obviously boost the economic contribution.

The report includes examples of how these sciences benefit the economy, such as advanced mathematics supporting the effectiveness of mobile phones and wireless internet, and sets out a selection of breakthroughs that have had an economic impact.

The report was commissioned by the Office of the Chief Scientist and the Australian Academy of Science and produced by the Centre for International Economics (CIE).

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The importance of advanced physical and mathematical sciences to the Australian economy

Chubb releases national science strategy

Chief Scientist’s Office     |   2 September 2014

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Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has released his recommendations for a strategic approach to science and its related fields.

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Ian ChubbSpeaking at its release at Parliament House, Chubb said that his strategy report Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future outlines what needs to be done  to build a stronger, more competitive Australia.

Science is infrastructure and it is critical to our future. We must align our scientific effort to the national interest; focus on areas of particular importance or need; and do it on a scale that will make a difference to Australia and a changing world.

I have outlined how to develop better capacity and capability through strategic investment, good planning and long-term commitment.

The report observes that 65% of Australia’s economic growth in recent decades can be ascribed to technological innovations and better use of capital and labour, most of which were made possible by investing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

We can continue to say it used to be good in 1970 so it probably will be again. (But) incrementalist, self-protective denialism and self-delusion are not the way for Australia to build a sensible future.

Chubb reiterated that Australia is the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy.

Other countries have realised that such an approach is essential to remaining competitive in a world reliant on science and science-trained people.

The 37-page final report offers 24 recommendations around four “principle fields”

  • Building competitiveness
  • Supporting high quality education and training
  • Maximising research potential
  • Strengthening international engagement

Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, welcomed the report, stating that science and research are the pillars upon which Australia’s productivity, living standards and community well-being are built.

Improving our economic and productive performance requires strategic, long-term and stable investment, even in difficult economic times. It aims to embed STEM learning at all levels of the education system and workforce. This investment will deliver maximum returns only if there is a long-term plan for science and research that identifies strategic priorities, acknowledges the need for research career programs and encourages the study and teaching of STEM courses that align skills with workforce needs.

ATN Executive Director, Vicki Thomson described the report as “more than timely”:

This work of the Chief Scientist’s office should be a critical input to Government thinking as it completes the National Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda, brings the Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Program fully online and works through reforms to Higher Education and Government funded research.

No free ride to the future: Chubb

Office of the Chief Scientist     |    14 August 2014

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In delivering the Jack Beale Lecture on the Global Environment, Australia’s chief scientist Ian Chubb has lamented the lack of a national science strategy at a time when comparable nations are investing in a strategic science and technology pipeline that starts with education and ends with high end research. This is at a time when the Australian government is actually cutting back investment in key areas of research.   Australia is now the only OECD country that does not have a contemporary national science and technology, or innovation strategy.  For the first time since 1931, Australia does not have a science minister. He says that a complacent attitude of “presuming that she’ll be right because it most often has been is no longer an option – surely.”  It’s not so much a case of Australia will be left behind: we are being left behind in the science that underpins the security of our national future.  Science, Chubb points out,  is a long haul: “it is not something that can be turned on or off when we feel like it”.  Chubb released a position paper more than a year ago outlining the case for a national strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He’s now in the final stages of preparing a national strategy for government to consider.

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Chubb3

Tonight I want to talk about the future.

I know that it’s not a novel thing to do; not even a new thing to do. Indeed, Hansard records that the word “future” was used 848 times in the Australian Parliament just last June; a number that appears to be the highest monthly count on record.

I will use the word “future” a lot, too, tonight. Not 848 times – but often enough to emphasise the point that we can choose the sort of future we get: we can take what comes and muddle along; or we can work out what we want and earn it by planning, prioritising and persistence.

I am not one of those who thinks that good things will just happen because we expect them to.

I think we need to organise, evaluate and cohere – to make sure that we align our efforts and our investment with our national interests; that we focus on areas that are of particular importance or where there is a particular need; and that we build to a scale that will make a difference both to ourselves and to a changing world.

I am comfortable saying that here because I think Jack Beale would say the same. He was a scientist and a statesman, an innovator and a man of business. He was a politician who thought about the future.

In many ways, he put the future of our planet – particularly its water resources – on the map. He was ahead of his time.

He was Australia’s first environment minister – and among the first to think that such a role might have a place in our politics.

He made his motivation very clear when he said:

Australia is the lowest, flattest, hottest and driest continent on the earth and we have to manage it accordingly.

Of course, in Jack Beale’s day, in his political life, some things were probably a little less complicated (even less complex) than they appear to be now.

Certainly there was no Facebook, or Twitter or selfies when he entered politics in NSW in 1942 – some six years before Australia produced its very first home-trained PhD graduate. Thinking aloud and floating ideas might have been more attractive at a time when your critics faced you and the discussion was more civil.

Jack Beale was also in politics at a time of reconstruction after World War II. It was a period when people of vision saw a need to build a different Australia – a better Australia.

And it was one where research and education were seen as vital to the building of that better Australia – a stronger Australia that earned its place in the world because of the contribution it was willing and increasingly able to make.

They thought a lot about the future in those days – and it was clear that they had learnt from history and didn’t want to repeat it.

I wonder if we can say the same of our thinking about the future today.

Is the word “future” just a convenient handle we grasp to hint at our wisdom, or our vision, but is really a handle without substance? Is it easier to dream about the future than it is to act in the present?

Or are we seeing a real intention to develop a meaningful and comprehensive approach to secure a future we want?

The sort of future we would want to hand on to our children and grandchildren and our great grandchildren; a future for them that we would be pleased to have for ourselves?

The sort of future that Jack Beale’s generation aspired to leave for us?

I’m not sure that it is clear. We have certainly heard the word tied to the recent budget – so we know that a future without debt is a good thing. I can accept that.

But I also know that I want more.

I want an Australia that is more than just what is left after the economic trimmings work their way through the community’s digestive system. I want an Australia in which our economy is organised to support our aspiration and not to limit it.

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quote marksI want an Australia that is more than just what is left after the economic trimmings work their way through the community’s digestive system. I want an Australia in which our economy is organised to support our aspiration and not to limit it.

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As I’ve said elsewhere, we wouldn’t order a truck load of bricks without knowing the type of house we wanted to build. Yet we fiddle with individual bits of the economy and wait to see what it all adds up to.

Of course we have to change.  Presuming that she’ll be right because it most often has been is no longer an option – surely.

And what has been described as the national motto, that is “no worries”, doesn’t serve us well either.

The world was a very different place when somebody decades ago made those colloquialisms the quintessential Australian response to almost any circumstance.

But there was always an ambiguity at their core.

At their best, they stand for optimism – a willingness to shoulder a challenge with courage and ambition.

But they can just as easily stand for a collective shrug – a willingness to accept whatever comes to hand; an apathy or even complacency.

Too much of the latter and the world will leave us behind.

The managing director of Google in Australia Maile Carnegie reminded us of that recently when she said:

[…] the long-term challenge for Australia is how do we, as a minimum, keep pace with the global revolution that is happening? But the more immediate challenge is to make sure that we don’t slip further behind.

And why would the world care if we appear not to care: no worries; she’ll be right?

Of course, we are frequently told that our future competitiveness cannot be underpinned by our natural resources alone.

We are a nation in “transition”, we hear.

But to what; and how?

There is not likely to be any country in the world with all the answers. But as we decide the what and the how, if we decide we want to act, we can observe and we can learn. Because we do know that nations all around the world are resetting their economies.

We know that new technologies are pushing smart companies to the lead.

New industries and new sources of wealth are emerging. New skills are required for workers at all levels as economies change. A new culture of risk and reward is spreading.

Countries at all levels of development are now focusing on the capabilities required for building new jobs and creating wealth.

And they are acting now to secure the skills, investment and international alliances for their future.

At the core of almost every agenda is science, technology, engineering and mathematics (which I will refer to from here as science). It is the almost universal preoccupation now shaping the world’s plans.

It is a preoccupation that crosses all boundaries of language, culture and geography.

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quote marksWe too need to recognise that it is the knowledge that science will offer, and the sensible application of that knowledge to agreed goals, that will build a stronger Australia..

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Australia must forge its path in step with the rest of the world. We must remain in the game with a differentiated and readily adaptable economy that supports the aspirations we have for the country. And we must ensure that we bequeath a planet that can sustain the coming generations.

I put to you that these aspirations are not exclusive and that science is at their core.

Whether it is our climate, our health, our ageing population, our food supply, our economy or our security, it will be scientific discovery and the use of scientific knowledge that will give us the capacity to respond.

None of this is new – indeed, it is widely accepted.

Wherever I go, I hear that science is important and Australia should be good at it, something the Commonwealth’s Commission of Audit also identified. I even hear it confidently asserted that the outlook must be rosy: after all, we are often told that in science we’re clearly punching above our weight.

So – she’ll be right. No worries.

But is that true?  Not really.   Some recent and comprehensive forthcoming work done by my office provides some interesting indications.

We compared our performance with that of 11 western European countries, the United States and Canada. It is clear that our best are very good.

We do well amongst the group in terms of our share of the world’s top 1% of cited research papers; but our average (field weighted) citation rates are below all of them.

Our patenting rates are poor, and the linkages between our researchers and business are among the worst in the OECD.

Less than one in three Australian researchers work in industry; half the OECD average of 60% and substantially less than the US, where some two in three researchers are in the business sector.

Just 1.5% of Australian companies developed new to the world innovations in the latest year for which statistics are available, compared to between 10 to 40% in other OECD countries.

That, as I say, is our current performance.

Looking to the future – by which I mean looking into schools – we sit in the middle of the pack for primary and secondary students’ performance in science and mathematics literacy.

While I accept that indicators such as these are not all perfect, they do offer an insight into where Australia sits overall.

Bluntly, we are middle-of-the-road. Not better – not punching above our weight as we so often declare in a fit of misguided and unhelpful enthusiasm.

I think it is no coincidence that we sit where we do.

Australia is now the only OECD country that does not have a contemporary national science and technology, or innovation strategy.

Our science investment and policies are too heavily dependent on so-called “terminating program” grants, funding offsets and sporadic commitments to infrastructure. And worse, they have suffered from a lack of coordination. As each agency, department or university independently makes its necessary budget adjustments, our national science profile is what’s left over. And it is compounded by the study choices of undergraduate students, given the numerical dominance of university researchers in our profile. What is important may not be popular.

As I said before, we have long presumed that good things will just happen. That in amongst the churn we will still have what we need when the time comes. She’ll be right, we might say.   No worries.

But science is a long haul. It is not something that can be turned on or off when we feel like it.

And it isn’t like a tooth brush: something you can buy when you get there because you forgot to pack one.

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quote marksIf we are to build both capacity and capability we need strategic investment supported by good planning and long-term commitment..

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We need to build the capability to take up whatever legacy of progress we leave behind – so that the next generations know more about the world than we do today; and learn to shape it in ways that we cannot.

There is actually a science to science.

To give one example: ensuring we develop enough scientists and science-trained workers, in a competitive world where talent is increasingly mobile. A sort of talent security along with all the other securities we talk about: like food, water, cyber and so on.

The Prime Minister summed it up in New York recently:

Science is at the heart of a country’s competitiveness and it is important that we do not neglect science as we look at the general educational and training schemes.

We need to be mindful of the fact that decisions made today in schools will start to have their impact on the workforce profile in five, six, seven or more years from now. That is where we should be thinking. The “market” there and beyond.

It is not easy – but it is possible.

The Royal Society of London, for one, has recently released a report laying down the imperative for science education.

As the Chair of the Committee said:

Science and mathematics are at the absolute heart of modern life. They are essential to our understanding of the world […] [and] provide the foundations for the UK’s future economic prosperity.

The Vice-Chair of the Committee commented:

Our Vision takes the long view but recognises that there is both urgency and great opportunity for Government to act now.   Estimates suggest that one million new science, technology and engineering professionals will be required in the UK by 2020 and yet there is a persistent dearth of young people taking these qualifications after the age of 16. If the UK is to remain globally competitive and if we are to develop a more equitable and informed society, Government and the wider education community must take the Royal Society’s recommendations seriously.

When we try to begin a conversation here about Australia’s future needs, we get told that starting salaries for science graduates are (apparently) low, therefore there is no market pull, so pull your head in.

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quote marksThe implication is that we shouldn’t be like nearly every other developed economy on the planet and think ahead. Too hard for us. Keep it short-term – focus on what happened last year. She’ll be right.

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Personally, I think that attitude is a bit like saying that we can get rid of all Australia’s cows because we’ve got milk in the ‘fridge.

Whatever the logic behind it, we will see the consequences in lost opportunities for our people and our economy.

As the Managing Director of BASF Australia Ross Pilling wrote in the Financial Review:

Australia’s business community is looking on with concern at the sharply declining participation rates in the so-called STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics […] Fewer year 12 students, especially girls, have any interest in studying maths and science. For business, this is a source of profound frustration.

We need a conversation now in which we talk about how we support science to do all the things we need it to do. And how we make sure that we have the right science – and that we ask the right questions.

We need science that:

  • gives us the knowledge to understand the challenges we face
  • expands the toolkit we can bring to confront those challenges
  • connects Australia to global science – to give and receive
  • gives us a shared vocabulary, in which hard things can be talked about and tackled.

As the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair said to the Royal Society in 2002 when talking about moral judgment:

Science […] allows us to do more, but it doesn’t tell us whether doing more is right or wrong.

We need the science to inform the judgement and we need the conversation to get the action.

More than a year has now passed since I released a position paper outlining the case for a national strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I’ve spent that year doing dozens of media interviews and delivering speeches right across the country advocating a strategy. Not one individual or organisation has said it is a bad idea. Not one has said it is not needed.

The Business Council of Australia on July 31 last year endorsed such an approach and listed a science strategy as critical to Australia’s economic growth.

Their current president, Catherine Livingstone, was more recently quoted as saying:

We have been bemoaning the poor state of STEM skills […] in schools and universities for over 15 years.

So I can only echo her question:

If we are all agreed that this is an issue why isn’t enough happening?

Other countries are doing it – and they’re investing strategically in science – for the long haul.

These other countries have found the right way to get leadership from government – learnt how to get government in the way – in the right way, in the right place for the right period of time.

We can, too.

I note in passing that our “competitors” have also moved past using the expression “picking winners” as the standard pejorative to stop any thinking about needs and advantages and focus and scale.

Instead of being stuck in the old ways, our competitors have moved on.

They have identified national priorities and set out to fund them appropriately – areas where they have advantage, or need, or capacity to grow to scale, or to take new products to market.

The United Kingdom, the EU, Canada, the United States, China, South Korea, and many, many other countries around the globe, have prioritised science funding as an important foundation for future sustained growth.

Amongst others, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in April:

We’ve had to make difficult choices to cut public spending. The easy route would have been to cut science spending. But it would have been painful for the economy and the wrong answer for Britain. It would have completely undermined our long term economic prospects.

The key players understand that to have the scientific capacity to meet the greatest challenges, they need to be strategic about the entire pipeline, from education, to research to industry. And they act now.

Surely we in Australia can, too.

And I do sense that the calls for action are increasing. I sense that she’ll be right might be challenged – and importantly, from those directly impacted by inaction.

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quote marksIt is also my view that we can’t just continue to tinker at the margins. That’s what we have done and it is clear that it isn’t good enough.

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I do believe that we need to be bold – with well thought through but bold initiatives that position us for the future.

So let me put my version of a strategy to you tonight. It would be underpinned by four main objectives:

  1. Competitiveness: science must underpin a differentiated and readily adaptable economy, one that is globally competitive and one that will enable all Australians to benefit from the opportunities that will follow. We can learn from what has been done in the UK and the US, in particular. There they have introduced structural arrangements that support innovation and ensure that at least a proportion of public money going to private companies is focused on areas where there is need, advantage and outcomes which can be taken to market. They encourage linkages between researchers and the business sector. They encourage the flow of ideas and knowledge into new products and services.
  2. Education and training: we prepare a skilled and dynamic science-qualified workforce, and lay the foundations for lifelong science literacy in the community. There is a national interest and we would do well to remember it. Action in this area will require appropriate co-ordination and cooperation between different levels of government. We can learn from others, including federations, about how to support teachers both in-service and pre-service, and how to use curricula and assessment to enhance learning through inspirational teaching.
  3. Research: Australian science will contribute knowledge to a world that relies on a continuous flow of new ideas and their application. Like many other countries, we can develop strategic research priority areas – not using all available funding support, and not neglecting basic research that is the foundation of so much knowledge that we can apply. But we can and should align, focus and scale.
  4. International engagement: Australian science will position Australia as a respected, important and able partner in a changing world, for both domestic and global benefit. We should develop strategic government-to-government partnerships that are funded. We should also look to using better the Australian science base and work within our region to establish an Asian Area Research Zone that facilitates work on shared priorities as well as building infrastructure.

What would such a strategy cost us? Only effort, commitment and willpower.

What are the costs of inaction? The deficit we would leave behind. I hope our children will not find out.

The choice is ours to make.

That is why we should take inspiration from people like Jack Beale – people who thought deeply and acted boldly. He was that rarest of combinations, a politician with a background in (and passion for) science.

He was rare then, he would still be rare. Eleven of the current 150 House of Representatives Members and 11 of the 76 Senators have a science qualification, and a handful more have worked in related fields.

Which raises an important question, do you have to have studied science, technology, engineering or mathematics to understand the role they play in a nation’s fate?

In answering that, I’m reminded of a quote from a lawyer who said:

I suppose that if we were to ask ourselves what in the last 20 years, up to 50 years, had been the great distinguishing feature of this century apart from wars and political confusions, the answer would be the flowering of science and the growing application of science through technology to the problems, the practical workaday problems of the world.

The lawyer was Prime Minister Robert Menzies. The year was 1962. The occasion was the opening of a major piece of research infrastructure at CSIRO.

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quote marksMenzies understood then, as we must now, that if science is to flower and be applied to our practical workaday problems; if it is to be central to our future, we must be mindful of what it needs to be able to do for us what we want it to do. And provide it..

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The Conversation

 

The Scan Main Edition 1 August 2013

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Industrial action intensifies

NTEU bannerIndustrial conflict rages across the sector as the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) battles it out with universities over the terms of a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement.  An application by Monash University to suspend bans on releasing assessment results was effectively thrown out by the Fair Work Commission but a similar application by Swinburne University succeeded.   Industrial action is intensifying at James Cook University, ANU and RMIT….[READ MORE]…..

BCA plan to deregulate fees

University fees would be deregulated, red tape slashed and the federal government would assume more control of vocational training$ image under a sweeping pre-election manifesto unveiled by the Business Council of Australia.  The Economic Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity says market arrangements should be further embedded in universities to foster “world-class and more differentiated” specialist university courses…..[READ MORE]…..

UC chases rankings

uc-logoThe University of Canberra proposes to spend $15 million over the next five years on attracting top researchers as the university pushes to break into world rankings by 2018.  The university has budgeted $3 million a year to attract 10 ”high performing” researchers in five specialist areas: governance, environment, communication, education and health.  The recruitment drive has started with advertising in the London Times Higher Education supplement, the target of UC’s campaign being the ranking of ”young” universities, with 13 Australian universities already in their top 100…..[READ MORE]…..

Pearson to get out of VET

Education publisher Pearson, which owns a number of brands, including Penguin and a share of The Economist, has announced that itStack of books will wind down its traditional publishing activities in the Australian vocational education and training market.  As a result of these changes, 75 positions are potentially redundant.  Pearson says it plans to build greater capacity and capability in its services businesses, in particular teacher professional development and course development.  Pearson attributed to the decision in large part to the continuing flux in the VET system…..[READ MORE]…..

Australia’s super computer

ANU super computerAustralia’s most powerful computer has been officially launched at the opening of the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) high performance computing centre at The Australian National University (ANU).  Named after the Japanese god of thunder, lightning and storms, Raijin can perform the same number of calculations in one hour that would take seven billion people armed with calculators 20 years.  The supercomputer is the largest in Australia, and reputedly the 27th  largest in the world, and will enable researchers to process vast volumes of data that would otherwise take years to complete, and simply not be possible using desktop computers……[READ MORE]…..

Project to map humanities and social sciencesASSA2

The Australian Government has commissioned a new project to map the national research and teaching capacity in the humanities and social sciences (HASS).  The report will profile the HASS sectors, including trends in student enrolments and infrastructure capacity.  The project will also consider how government, universities and the humanities and social sciences communities might address issues of sustainability and gaps in capability……[READ MORE]…..

Chubb proposes STEM strategy

ian-chubb2Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has outlined the urgent need for a national Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) strategy and released a position paper , Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: a Strategic Approach.  The paper highlights the central importance of investment in STEM as well as in social sciences and humanities research and education.   The paper proposes a strategy with “four essential, interconnected elements”…….[READ MORE]…..

quote marksThe need to move is illustrated by some simple facts of  life: there is no entitlement to a particular future; there will be no free ride on the back of the accomplishments of the rest of world; or on the back of our own resources.

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Circle of silence protest over Brabham

26 July 2013    |    Deakin University Institute of Koorie Education (IKE) staff are staging daily silent protests after the removal of their director, Professor Wendy Brabham, on 15 July……[READ MORE]…..

Circle of Silence

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Transitions

New Race Discrimination Commissioner appointed

Tim SDr Tim Soutphommasane has been appointed as Race Discrimination Commissioner.

He is currently University of Sydney Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in the University of Sydney, and an opinion columnist with Fairfax Media. He is also presenter of Mongrel Nation on ABC Radio National.

Dr Soutphommasane has contributed to national and international debates about multiculturalism and national identity through his numerous books in political theory, and through his regular media commentary in print, television and radio. His research has focused on the concepts of citizenship and identity, as well the development of multicultural policy in Australia. He holds a doctorate from the University of Oxford.

He is also a board member of the National Australia Day Council, a member of the Australian Multicultural Council and a fellow of Per Capita and St James Ethics Centre. Dr Soutphommasane previously worked as a speechwriter to Bob Carr when he was NSW premier.

Dr Soutphommasane has been appointed for a period of five years and will start in the position on 20 August 2013.

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Comment & analysis

Two views on Victorian TAFE reform

Victorian skills minister Peter Hall takes issue with a report by the self-described progressive think tank Per Capita, commissioned by the Victorian TAFE Association, that while contestability is OK, the way successive Victorian governments went about implementing has been somewhat less than OK.  Per Capita suggests the need for stronger government direction, including caps.   Hall responds that instead of wasting money on reports harking back to “good old days” of no competition and little accountability, theVTA should be supporting its members to capitalise on the opportunities the state’s system provides.

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TAFEs delivering on quality and price

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I would be the first to agree that much of what occurs in TAFE is special and continues to serve Victorians well. But does that mean it cannot stand on its own feet and prosper in an open market, as the [Per Capita] report argues?

TAFEs are businesses with a worldwide presence and turnovers of up to $200m annually. More training dollars are on the table than before and they are placed to win greater market share.

The world has moved on and TAFEs need to move with it. Instead of wasting money on reports harking back to “good old days” of no competition and little accountability, the Victorian TAFE Association should be supporting its members to capitalise on the opportunities the state’s system provides.

Every one of our 14 stand-alone TAFEs is receiving more money from government-subsidised training than it was under the previous government, while fee-for-service revenues are growing. Do we really think TAFEs should be paid more than the other community-owned providers for delivering the same certificate II in aged care or disability services?

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Lessons from the Victorian Experience

per capitaFew areas of Australian public policy have undergone such rapid change as vocational education and training (VET) in recent years.The introduction of private provision, known as ‘contestability’, has radically reshaped the VET sector. Contestability was first embraced in Victoria in 2009 in response to a widespread skills shortage, with other states since following suit. The objectives of contestability were to increase the supply of qualified trainees, while attracting greater private investment and improving quality through competition.

In a 2008 paper, Per Capita called for a new market design in vocational training based on contestability (Cooney, 2008). Now, five years on, we evaluate the experience of contestability in Victoria against its original objectives. We find that it has succeeded in one of its primary goals: dramatically lifting the supply of new trainees.

However, there have been unexpected and damaging consequences elsewhere.

The ‘uncapping’ of the market has led to a bubble which has resulted in a $300m p.a. blow-out in public spending on VET

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Life & stuff

Fifty shades of red

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Note the keys

The London Fire Brigade has attributed a marked rise in the number of people trapped in handcuffs in recent years to the popularity of erotic fiction such as Fifty Shades of Grey.  It advises people indulging in such play to “always keep the keys handy.”    There are a remarkable number of things into which people insert themselves from which they need professional help to be extracted, including toasters, and vacuum cleaners.   As one Brigade member  observes, some of the incidents our firefighters are called out could be prevented with a little common sense.”

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Policy in the Pub

What’s really happened under reforms to VET in Victoria

PrintTue 6 Aug 2013, 4:00pm to 6:00pm (Melbourne)
  • Nick Chiam, Director of Tertiary Education Policy, Department of Higher Education and Skills
  • Bruce McKenzie, CEO, Holmesglen TAFE
  • Claire Field, CEO, ACPET

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Tertiary Ed Book

When the political parties will not talk about the substance of higher education and research, we depend on civil society, the media, the public in all its forms, and the institutions of higher education and research themselves, to define and advance the issues.

This book is designed to stimulate and contribute to such a process of discussion.

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TDA

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Fulbright ComFulbright Professional Scholarship In Vocational Education and Training

This Fulbright Scholarship is for employees within the vocational education and training sector or training leaders in business and industry. It is not for university academics that study VET as an academic discipline. Applications close 14 August 2013.

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ACPET National Conference

VET and Higher Education: the future is in the private sector

29-30 August | Adelaide

???????????????????????????????ACPET’s national conference is the largest gathering of private and not-for-profit educators and trainers in Australia and provides an opportunity for networking and professional development.

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Chubb proposes STEM strategy

Chief Scientist    |     31 July 2013

In an address to the National Press Club,  Chief Scientist Ian Chubb outlined the urgent need for a national Science Technology, ian-chubb2Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) strategy and released a position paper , Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the National Interest: a Strategic Approach .

The paper highlights the central importance of investment in STEM as well as in social sciences and humanities research and education.

The crucial role played by innovation in lifting national productivity and the importance of improving links between public education and research and the private sector is also highlighted.

The paper proposes a  strategy with “four essential, interconnected elements”:

  • Education: formal and informal;
  • Knowledge: ensuring a continuous flow of new ideas, and their dissemination;
  • Innovation: using knowledge to produce high value goods and services; and,
  • Influence: collaboration, networks and alliances, to ensure that Australia earns its place in the world.

In order to progress development of these  strategic actions, Chubb proposes the establishment of a National Innovation Council,  and suggests that the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC), could be structured and referenced to
undertake the role.

quote marksThe need to move is illustrated by some simple facts of  life: there is no entitlement to a particular future; there will be no free ride on the back of the accomplishments of the rest of world; or on the back of our own resources.

Chubb calls for a national science and technology strategy

ScienceNetwork WA    |     23 May 2013

STEM2Chief Scientist Ian Chubb has called  for a national strategy to support Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and research.  He says that, while our science system in general may be pretty good, serious shortcomings remain for Australia to be above average across all fields of science on the world stage, like the US, Canada and some European countries.

Speaking at the 2013 Inaugural Rio Tinto-UWA Education Partnership lecture, at the University of Western Australia, Chubb detailed the importance of fostering a science literate nation for a better and prosperous future.

Almost two years in the job, he has released a report on the health of Australian science, followed by a more recent paper, in which Australia’s science performance was benchmarked.

Our best scientists are up there with the best, but we drop away and have a long tail. This tail has implications for the weight and balance of our research efforts.

He concludes that Australia punches above its weight in research but that “we have to go beyond accepting our own rhetoric about our excellence”.

One problem is the persistent decline in university enrolments in the STEM-disciplines over the last decade.

A shortfall in undergraduates has influenced funding in STEM areas leading to fewer staff, less research and a deficiency in innovation, which Australia needs to have an impact internationally.

Most nations that outperform us have a National Science & Technology Strategy— a whole of government coherent vision with concrete directions to support research within STEM disciplines, argues Chubb. “

We don’t, but we should.  We need to prepare ourselves so that we can face up to whatever happens in the future, solve it, manage it, mitigate it and adapt to it, whatever it may be.

Chubb is developing a proposal for Australia’s National Science & Technology Strategy, which meets the need for basic science to generate new ideas, innovation to harness technology and to be globally competitive, and science to be embedded in our society to remain a nation of influence.

Without an overarching plan,  Chubb wonders whether Australia can sustain a productive and effective setting for STEM-training, and ensure research and innovation continues contributing to global solutions for the future of our climate, environment and economy.

Universities Australia has backed the call with chief executive, Belinda Robinson saying:

The nation needs a coherent national strategy to ensure the enormous benefits of cutting edge science and technology underpin efforts to produce a more diverse, productive and innovative economy and improve the lives of all Australians.

A broad range of ideas to shape the National Science & Technology Strategy is being sought and proposals can be forwarded to  ocs-projects@chiefscientist.gov.au.