A recent study from the University of Sydney has revealed a fall in the number of students studying maths and science combinations for their HSC, prompting calls for these subjects to become compulsory once again.

This study has raised fears of Australia falling even further behind in international educational benchmarks unless something major is done to boost the number of students studying maths and science.

Dr Rachel Wilson is from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Sydney University, and worked with two others on the study. She believes reintroducing compulsory maths and science subjects is part of the solution.

“Even with the reinstatement of these subjects, we are still behind current international benchmarks in terms of the sorts of curriculum covered for high school graduation,” said Dr Wilson. “If we’re to remain economically competitive, we must make some tough decisions about this issue.”

In 2011, only 16.3 per cent of students went on to study HSC mathematics and science compared to 18.3 per cent in previous years.

Dr Wilson points to countries like South Korea, Finland, China and Japan, where all university entrants have to complete a maths subject. These countries are also some of the top performing countries for education in the world.

Another concern is school-leavers who do not take a maths or science subject could be unprepared for university, particularly in engineering, science and maths fields. These students might choose easier subjects for the HSC in order to secure a particular ATAR, and then lack the knowledge they need for a university course.

“An ATAR by itself won’t necessarily enable you to make up the knowledge and skills gaps in these ‘barrier’ first year subjects,” said honorary associate professor John Mack, co-author of the study.

By Rosie Russell