Crikey, is Australian science too blokey for women? According to University of Canberra vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Parker, there's possibly ''something in Australian culture'' that seems to discourage young women from studying maths and science.
''I don't think it comes down to gender identification with specific subjects in the schools system. I think it's something much deeper than that, and I strongly suspect it's got a lot to do with Australian culture,'' he said.
Professor Parker has launched a proposal to establish a new science and education ''super-faculty'' at the University of Canberra by merging disciplines in applied science, mathematics, statistics and education.
The new faculty, which could begin operating next year, is the first of its kind in Australia and will aim to boost the number of high quality maths and science teachers in secondary schools.
''We have a problem, in that Australia is falling well behind in the sciences, and if we want to be taken seriously on the world stage, we need to do something to boost our science capital,'' he said.
ACT Education Minister Chris Bourke has welcomed the proposal, saying good science teachers were critical to Canberra's economic future. ''Canberra's future prosperity relies on young people becoming the scientists and technicians who drive innovation and economic growth,'' Dr Bourke said.
Professor Parker said the nation's schools needed ''many more confident maths and science teachers'' who could inspire and enthuse secondary students to continue their studies at university. The proposed new faculty of education, science and mathematics would also aim to improve science communication.
''We want the University of Canberra to develop a reputation as the place to be if you want a career as a maths or science teacher. The benefit of this particular mix of disciplines is that it puts educators directly in touch with scientists.''
The new arrangement will include the department of applied ecological science, and the university is hoping to offer a new degree in environmental education.
''Applied ecology is one of the jewels in the university's crown, and I promise I'll be doing everything I can to advance its reputation,'' Professor Parker said.
And, the new super-faculty won't require budget or job cuts from the departments that will be amalgamated. Professor Parker said there was ''no downside to this proposal, because there will be no closures or disruptions''.
A number of staff meetings had already occurred and ''staff were positive about the proposed changes,'' he said.
The plan will be discussed by the university's academic board next week, and then go to the university council for approval.