Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to be made compulsory for all Australian students in senior years of high school, with such competency a requirement for university entry.
Speaking at Sydney’s Smeaton Grange as the Federal Election 2016 campaign hots up, the Prime Minister responded to growing concern within the academic and business community, as Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to worsen.
By shifting just one per cent of the workforce into STEM-focused career roles, Australia could gain a $57.4 billion increase in GDP, according to a recent report from PWC.
Yet, in NSW and Victoria, maths and science are only compulsory until year 10.
"In my generation, you had to do maths or science to complete high school," Turnbull said. "We've got to get back to that and ensure that everyone is very literate in those STEM subjects. Science, maths, technology – that's the future.
"More universities are requiring, and they should all require, in due course, that maths or science should be a prerequisite school subject to have completed to go on to university. It’s one of the areas we’ve gone backwards."
Across Australia, the number of students undertaking intermediate and advanced maths in secondary school fell by 34 per cent over the past 18 years, according to the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute.
As reported by the SMH, Australia's results in the Program for International Student Assessment, which compares student performance internationally, have also steadily declined over the past decade.
Consequently, the top 10 per cent of Australian 15-year-olds' are achieving at the same level in maths as the top 40 to 50 per cent of students in Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
Additionally, results from MasterCard’s ‘Girls in Tech’ research earlier this year, revealed that across all of Asia-pacific, Australian girls between 15 and 19 years old are the least interested in STEM.
“The world is transforming at a pace never seen before and it’s been driven by technology and the imagination of young people,” Turnbull added.
Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, has also targeted universities as part of his STEM policy, proposing to invest $393 million to offer graduates access to 25,000 teacher scholarships over five years to encourage them to become STEM teachers.
In addition, the Labor Party also devised a proposal to fund 100,000 STEM degrees.