BHP Billiton has announced it will donate $22 million to fund the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute's "Choose Math" program to encourage girls and women to study maths and enter STEM fields where they are under-represented.
The donation will fund the professional development of teachers at 120 Australian schools to help address the shortage of qualified maths teachers, as well as a national careers awareness campaign aimed at girls and women, an "inspiring women in mathematics network", financial support, scholarships and awards.
The Director of AMSI, Geoff Prince, said that only 7% of girls were taking advanced maths in the final year of secondary school (half the rate of boys) and that the number of female maths graduates at Australian universities is only one-third of the OECD average. Andrew Mackenzie, Chief Executive of BHP Billiton, has called on universities to promote the message that maths is a gateway to other subjects, telling the Australian newspaper that his own background in maths had helped him move successfully from working as a geologist, chemist and engineer into roles in finance and economics. Mr MacKenzie said that STEM professionals are "vital to our future prosperity, national productivity and global competitiveness", and that: "Any increase in STEM participation is good news but an increase in female representation is especially valuable because of the undeniable benefits of diversity".