The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) and the BHP Billiton Foundation have launched Choose Maths, a five-year national program that will turn around public perception of mathematics and statistics as a career choice for girls and young women.

Working from the ground up, Choose Maths begins with a focus on mathematics education in primary and secondary schools.

The BHP Billiton Foundation has contributed $22 million toward the partnership, which will enable AMSI Schools to expand its outreach capacity across Australia over the next five years.

The University of Melbourne is a member of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and hosted the launch of Choose Maths.

The program will contribute to the health of the mathematics pipeline in Australia from school through university and out to industry and the workplace by:

  • providing mathematics-ready teacher professional development in 120 schools across Australia and resources for every school in the country;
  • developing a national mathematical sciences careers awareness campaign;
  • establishing an "inspiring women in mathematics network"; and
  • holding annual BHP Billiton awards for excellence in the teaching and learning of mathematics.
  • Research-based strategies for encouraging girls and young women into mathematics and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related courses will be core to the program. The large-scale careers awareness campaign will be driven by research into community perceptions about mathematics.

Innovation-active businesses are around twice as likely to use engineering and science skills, and three times more likely to use information and communications technology skills than innovation-inactive businesses.

It is estimated that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require competency in the STEM disciplines. In a 2013 survey, conducted by the Australian Industry Group, the majority of businesses indicated they had difficulty recruiting employees with these skills.

If no action is taken, demand for tertiary graduates with STEM skills, particularly mathematics, will continue to outstrip supply.

The percentage of male mathematical sciences graduates in Australia sits at half the OECD average; for women this drops to one-third.

Between now and 2020 new PhD graduates are needed to grow the expert mathematical and statistical workforce by 17 per cent – a currently unattainable figure.

If Australia increases the participation of girls and young women in STEM we can contribute to addressing the gender wage gap and fill graduate places needed to secure a productive and innovative future.

Eliminating the gender wage gap could be worth around $93 billion – that’s 8.5 per cent of GDP.

"The low participation of girls and women in the study of the mathematical sciences and in the quantitative professions is a significant national social and economic challenge.

"This landmark five year project, undertaken by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute and funded by the BHP Billiton Foundation, aims to build self-sustaining education communities where girls and young women share equally in the rewarding careers and rich life experiences that mathematics offers," says AMSI Director, Professor Geoff Prince.