Flinders Research Centre to boost interest in science

A new Flinders University research centre that aims to change public and student perceptions about science and boost the nation’s prospects of meeting future skills needs was officially opened by the Premier, Mr Mike Rann on 9 January.

The Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century (to be known as Science21) was founded to address declining enrolments in secondary and tertiary studies in the sciences – a scenario worrying policy makers and the business sector in the face of growing labour market demand for skilled professionals with science experience.

Flinders University’s new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Barber, today said “the importance of science and its role in our education system and the broader economy cannot be overstated.”

”While few of the major challenges we face as a nation – water, climate change, health, economic growth – will be solved by science and technology alone, none will be, I believe, resolved without science,” Professor Barber said.

Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century has a major role to play in establishing why Australia, which has such a strong track record in the sciences, seems to be losing interest in this field, and in redressing that trend,” he said.

From left: Professor Martin Westwell, Director of the Centre; Professor Michael Barber, Vice-Chancellor; Hon Mike Rann, Premier; Sir Eric Neal, Chancellor
“There are also many strands to scientific knowledge and related research and development. One of the challenges for the Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century, and the University more generally, is to foster an appreciation that one arm of science will not have all the answers to the big environmental and economic questions we will face in the years ahead.

“We must communicate across the full spectrum of the sciences, and indeed across all areas of learning, and value the knowledge and input of others if we are to solve the problems that threaten to undermine our future prosperity and lifestyles.”

The Director of Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century, Professor Martin Westwell, said “the choices made today in science education will shape tomorrow’s decision-makers”.

“The Centre’s key role is to stimulate and test ideas that might influence parents, teachers, business people and policy makers about the importance of science,” Professor Westwell said.

“We will draw on national and international research findings to inform and influence decision-makers and, where there are information gaps, we will initiate our own research projects to obtain the evidence required,” he said.

“Through this approach the Centre will help:

  • increase the numbers of people in South Australia and beyond with the necessary knowledge, skills and capabilities to meet workforce needs in the science and technology-oriented occupations and industries;
  • enhance scientific and technological capacity within industry and the community;
  • encourage innovation and an entrepreneurial approach in students;
  • raise levels of scientific and technological literacy and interest in the population generally; and
  • build the culture of creativity and innovation in South Australia and beyond.”

Professor Martin Westwell, the first Director of the Centre, was formerly Deputy Director of the Institute for the Future of the Mind at Oxford University, where he worked with former South Australian-Thinker-in-Residence, Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield.

Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century is funded by a $1.3 million grant from the SA Government and three departments – the Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS), the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST), and the Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) – are associated with its work.

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