Australia's Chief Scientist

COMMONWEALTH SCIENCE COUNCIL: FOURTH MEETING

The Commonwealth Science Council held its fourth meeting in Canberra on 14 September 2016. The Prime Minister welcomed Dr Alan Finkel to the Council as Australia’s eighth Chief Scientist, and emphasised the Council’s preeminent role in providing strategic advice to the Australian Government on the enduring contribution of science to public discussion and policy considerations. The Council encourages ongoing research in science, humanities, arts and social sciences to deliver economic, environmental and social benefit.

Council members welcomed the Government’s continued focus on science and research as important drivers of economic and jobs growth.

Members supported the Government’s decision to deliver a National Science Statement to articulate a strategic policy framework and vision for science and research. Members noted the importance of establishing a set of policy principles under which decisions affecting the science and research system could be made. Members noted the importance of considering a range of issues in the statement, from support for basic and translational research through to community engagement on science and technology.

In turning the focus to Australia’s current workforce needs and future jobs, members noted that demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) capabilities is projected to strengthen across the economy. Members agreed that it is important to recognise the role of STEM proficiency in current and future jobs, and the value of STEM graduates in an increasingly broad range of roles. Members noted that the Government has already made great strides in positioning the education system to build this critical skill-base, but further opportunities for action remain, for governments as well as the Chief Scientist, the education sector and industry.

In particular, the Council strongly encouraged consideration of a requirement for discipline-specific professional development for teachers as part of the review of school funding. The Council further encouraged a greater subject-specific focus in teacher training. The Council highlighted the important leadership role of school principals in providing comprehensive support for science and mathematics teaching in their schools.

Members noted that extensive progress has been made on preparing the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap and agreed that the process for identifying directions and priorities is appropriate. Members agreed that the Roadmap will be a valuable tool for Government and research stakeholders in reaching decisions on future financing and research directions.

Members welcomed the Council’s role in identifying emerging trends in science and technology through a series of horizon scanning reports. Presentations from experts in Synthetic Biology, Energy Storage and Precision Medicine highlighted existing work in these fields and the opportunities for Australia. Members considered future topics for horizon scanning, noting that this project would be important in guiding public policy and programme implementation.

The Council noted that the three work streams of the National Science Statement, the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap and the horizon scanning project will be important inputs for the Board of Innovation and Science Australia in developing a long-term national strategic plan for science and innovation. The 2030 plan for science and innovation is expected to be released before the end of 2017.

The next Commonwealth Science Council meeting will continue to progress work on horizon scanning, strategic planning for research infrastructure, STEM education, and the National Science and Research Priorities.