The sum and the product of our difficulties : Challenges facing the mathematical sciences in Australian universities

Abstract

The sum and the product of our difficulties: Challenges facing the mathematical sciences in Australian universities Peter Hall There is little dispute that the mathematical sciences in Australia are in decline. In some fields the fall is precipitous. My own, statistics, is a case in point. Indeed, it is doubtful we could adequately fill as many as half of the Chairs of Statistics that are currently vacant in Australia, or which will become vacant during the next decade. In one or two other areas, for example theoretical mathematics, it is not so long since we were blessed by a cluster of brilliant, younger scientists. But the wake they leave is beating against a sand-bar; there are few young men and women stepping up behind them. This decline in mathematics will likely sap the strength of Australian science and engineering well into the future, since the technologies that our nation must create and develop, in order to advance our economy and our culture, will rely on the mathematical sciences. The decline of Australian mathematics can be quantified in a variety of ways. For example, the number of mathematicians working in Australian universities is today between 60 and 70% of what it was in the mid 1990s. The number of Honours mathematics graduates in the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 was only three-quarters of what it had been in the previous five years [4]. The number of Departments of Statistics remaining in Aus-tralia is today only three; fifteen years ago there were at least three times that number , when there were fewer than half as many universities as now, and when the demand by employers for trained statis-ticians was far less than at present. The shortage of statistics graduates in Aus-tralia is so acute that it inhibits foreign investment [2]. It is less easy to identify the reasons for the decline. They are multifaceted and interacting, and as a result their combined impact is greater than one would expect from the sum of the individual contributions. To an extent, a decline can be seen abroad, too, for example in the US. However, there it is being driven by the demand for mathematicians to work in newly developing areas of science and technology, not (as here in Australia) by funding cuts to higher education. Nations with stronger mathematical-science cultures than our own often successfully supplement their depleting ranks of mathematicians by …

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Hall2004TheSA, title={The sum and the product of our difficulties : Challenges facing the mathematical sciences in Australian universities}, author={P . J . Hall}, year={2004} }