Funding boost to “secure Australia’s mathematical workforce into 21st century”

Originally published on EducationHQ (April 15, 2016)

The Australian government will invest $2 million into the expansion of training programs at the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) that connect tertiary students with industry.

The $3.3 million programs, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and AMSI over the next four years, offer senior undergraduate and postgraduate students the opportunity to collaborate with businesses through internships, short residential courses and industry events.

As part of the Turnbull government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, AMSI director Professor Geoff Prince said the institute would help “strategically graduate” work-ready mathematicians and programmers for an industry in demand.

“AMSI is uniquely placed to secure Australia’s mathematical workforce into the 21st Century,” Prince told EducationHQ.

AMSI was founded in 2002 in response to a greater need for engagement between universities and industry in the mathematical sciences.

Last year, Australia was ranked 33rd out of 33 countries by the OECD for university and industry collaboration – a figure the government and AMSI hope to change.

“We’re a collaboration of almost every Australian university maths and statistics department along with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Statistics, The Defence Science Technology Group, the CSIRO and the Reserve Bank and the Learned Society,” Prince said.

“So it’s sort of our peak body for all of the mathematical sciences in Australia.”

Each year, AMSI holds intensive summer and winter schools, where teachers from all around Australia are flown in to teach “cutting edge subjects” to postgraduate students.

A large national internship program also places research students directly into businesses while annual industry events bring researchers, students and companies together for several days at a time.

“It’s around work readiness of PHD students, it’s around really giving them a sense of what it’s like to do research outside of university, where there are commercial imperatives,” Prince said.

“And, of course, it’s also to solve business problems and to create collaborations between universities and businesses as well because a lot of these internships lead to consultancies and linkage grants and ongoing relationships with the businesses and university.”

Prince said the new investment would allow AMSI to further expand its work – starting with the launch of another annual networking event: AMSI Optimise.

Held over three days and followed by a two day research workshop, the event will bring together end-users, researchers and students working on the mathematical principle of optimisation. From hospital emergency wards to public transport scheduling, Prince said optimisation had become pervasive in a “data driven age”.

“The end users have their own problems and their own perspectives and that feeds back very positively into the research community,” Prince said.

“And then the end users benefit from this because the researchers are developing new tools for them so it’ll be a hot house event where end users and the research community come together.”

Another big focus of the new expansion at AMSI will be coding, a skill Prince believes the industry is “hungry” for.

“It’s absolutely essential,” he said. “But in Australia at the moment not every PHD student, not every Honours student, not every third year student in mathematics knows how to code.

“We’d like to see that change; we’d like to see it be a normal part of everybody’s maths training so at the end…you should be a competent programmer.

Those graduates who can code, they get snatched up.”


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