Submission by AMSI Management Committee 5: Mathematics and statistics (including education, training and research) in business and industry

Prof Geoff Prince
AMSI Director

Cate Ballard
Business Development Manager (AMSI Intern)

The full submission by AMSI management can be viewed here.

Theme 1: Training. Ensuring that components of the training of mathematical scientists reflect the requirements of business & industry. This theme has two components: (i) curriculum, and (ii) other aspects of training, for example communication skills, and the capacity to work effectively in a team.

In my roles as both AMSI director and university academic I offer the observation that mathematical scientists are usually graduates of science degrees and that these degrees offer little in the way of teamwork and communications training, vocational placements, etc. Thus a structural change is long overdue in order for the needs of business and industry to be met. Professional accreditation of the type offered by the Australian Computer Society and Engineers Australia would go a long way towards meeting this goal.

At a postgraduate level the situation is similar: some universities do offer career development coursework to their PhD students but many do not. And some AMSI member departments have made use of the AMSI Intern program to simultaneously improve the work readiness of their students and to create industrial collaborations. However the bulk of mathematics PhDs do not have either of these opportunities which is alarming since most of them will be working outside of academia within 5 years of graduation. The situation in statistics is a little different because of the strong demand for statistics graduates at all levels.

One particularly concerning aspect is the lack of computing skills amongst pure mathematics PhDs.
Many of these graduates aspire to careers in the financial sector and are unpleasantly surprised to find that programming fluency is a necessary condition for employment. The academic mathematical sciences community, including AMSI, need to address this situation as a matter of urgency.

Theme 2: Research. Meeting the research needs of business & industry: (i) identifying the needs, (ii) addressing the needs in universities and other institutions undertaking research in the mathematical sciences
and Theme 3: Linkages. Exploring the best ways to establish or improve business & industry’s links with the mathematical sciences

The dual problems of developing capacity for industrial research in universities and linkages between universities and business need to be seen from an all-discipline, national perspective first. By international standards Australia has a very low rate of private employment of researchers across all disciplines. Industry collaboration with universities is also low and there is a correlation between the two.
Because it is unlikely that there is a simple causal relationship between private sector employment and industry-university collaboration, measures which address both need to be put in place. PhD internships have been identified by the Chief Scientist and industry groups as a means of simultaneously creating collaborations and opportunity for employment.
The AMSI Intern program has been singled out for praise from the Chief Scientist but Australia is a long way from the situation in Canada where more than 2000 postgraduates are placed into internships each year.

The situation in the mathematical sciences reflects this national picture of low levels of industry engagement. Because of the intense focus on publication in university mathematical sciences departments the discipline’s comparative record in ARC Linkage grants is poor while the record with ARC fellowships and Discovery Projects is second to none. These are structural features which are unlikely to change in the absence of external incentives.

Having said this, closer collaboration of universities with government agencies such as the CMIS division of CSIRO will almost certainly improve capacity for industrial engagement. Similarly, a concerted campaign by the learned societies to service the non-academic community of mathematical scientists would also have a significant impact on collaborations and hence industrial research capacity. AMSI has a leadership role to play in brokering industrial engagement and in the development of policy through its Industry Advisory Committee. For example, an Australian Optimisation Service might provide the means to deliver operations research capacity to Australian business.

Further Reading:
Allan G. Pettigrew, Australia’s Position in the World of Science, Technology and Innovation, Office of the Chief Scientist Occasional Paper (2012)

Office of the Chief Scientist, Top breakthrough Actions for Innovation, PMSEIC (2012)

Australian Industry group, Lifting our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Skills (2012)

Mitacs- Accelerate (Canada’s Industry Internship Program)

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