Engineers Australia prioritizes maths education to tackle the nation’s engineering skills shortage
Mathematics education has become a hot topic in Australia’s engineering community, with experts highlighting its crucial role in developing the skills necessary for the future engineering workforce. As the number of students studying maths at higher levels declines and engineering courses increasingly do not require maths as a prerequisite, concerns arise about the readiness of engineering graduates and the country’s ability to meet the growing demand for engineers. Engineers Australia is taking action to address these challenges and emphasize the importance of maths education in shaping Australia’s engineering future.
The Decline in Maths Education:
The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute reports that the number of year 12 students choosing to study intermediate or higher level maths is at an all-time low. This decline is attributed to the fact that studying maths is no longer compulsory in many Australian states and territories. Additionally, 38% of engineering courses in Australia do not require any level of maths as a prerequisite for entry. These factors contribute to a cohort of engineering students who may lack the necessary mathematical skills to succeed in their studies.
The Impact on Engineering Education:
A strong foundation in maths has long been considered essential for engineering education. Associate Professor Gavin Buskes from the University of Melbourne explains that studying maths provides analytical and problem-solving skills that are crucial for engineers. It also fosters a shared level of maths knowledge among students, facilitating team-based and project-based learning. Professor Braden Phillips from the University of Adelaide emphasizes that maths helps engineers understand complex systems and drive creativity in designing solutions.
Struggles Faced by Students:
The declining emphasis on maths education has consequences for both universities and students. Students who enter maths-heavy degrees like engineering without a strong maths background may feel underprepared or struggle with the content. Jane MacMaster, Chief Engineer for Engineers Australia, notes that many students drop out of engineering programs because they encounter maths concepts they haven’t been exposed to before. This highlights the need for a certain level of maths ability to succeed in engineering studies.
The Link to Australia’s Engineering Skills Shortage:
Australia already faces a shortage of engineers, ranking second lowest in the OECD in terms of the share of university graduates who are engineers. This shortage is further exacerbated by the declining numbers of students studying maths at higher levels. Engineers Australia estimates that an additional 50,000 to 100,000 engineers will be needed by 2030 to meet the demands of clean energy, infrastructure projects, and emerging technologies. Improving maths education is seen as a vital step in addressing this skills shortage and ensuring a strong pipeline of future engineers.
Maths education plays a critical role in preparing students for the engineering profession. As the demand for engineers continues to grow, it is imperative that more young Australians study maths at higher levels and higher standards. By prioritizing maths education, Australia can bridge the engineering skills gap and meet the challenges of the clean energy transition, infrastructure development, and emerging technologies. A strong foundation in maths will equip future engineers with the necessary skills to tackle complex problems and drive innovation in the field.