National Science and Technology Council: Eighth meeting
The eighth meeting of the National Science and Technology Council was held via videoconference on 25 November 2020, and chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel AO. Dr Finkel welcomed Dr Cathy Foley AO to the meeting, and congratulated her on her appointment as Australia’s next Chief Scientist.
Dr Finkel updated the Council on work he has been doing in relation to COVID-19. In particular, he highlighted the National Contact Tracing Review which was endorsed at National Cabinet on 13 November 2020. The review describes the characteristics of an optimal system for testing, contact tracing and managing COVID-19 outbreaks. The Council discussed the data security and privacy implications of collecting and storing contact tracing data. The Council also discussed how to encourage uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine, once one has been approved for public use.
Dr Finkel presented the outcomes of an evaluation of the Science Policy Fellowship pilot program to the Council. The program provides early to mid-career scientists with the opportunity to work in an Australian Government department as a policy officer for 12 months. The program has been very successful, with both host departments and fellows finding significant value in taking part, and many of the fellows taking up permanent opportunities in the Australian Public Service (APS). The Council endorsed a proposal for the program to continue, based on the model used during the three year pilot. The Council also endorsed the addition of a formal alumni network, and noted that it should seek to support fellows who join the APS to maintain their connections with the science sector.
Professor Henly provided the Council with an update on lifelong learning and micro‑credentials. In the last 12 months, there has been a rapid increase in the number of micro‑credentials available. Most significantly, the new undergraduate certificate was added to the Australian Qualifications Framework, and is the first micro-credential to be formally recognised in this way.
Dr Marshall and Professor Schmidt discussed how improvements in the diversity of successful candidates can be achieved through anonymising applications for funding, access to research infrastructure and other processes. Council members discussed whether this approach could be taken up in a wider range of application processes.
Dr Finkel noted that this was his last meeting as the Executive Officer of the Council, and thanked Council members for their support. Council members thanked Dr Finkel for his work, and emphasised the value of his contributions over his five year term as Australia’s Chief Scientist.
The next meeting of the Council will be in 2021.