CANBERRA, July 9 - In a speech in Sydney, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said it is unacceptable that secondary school students are taught science or maths subjects by people without specialist skills.
"States should be willing to make clear to universities where their employment priorities lie and create direct incentives," Senator Birmingham said.
"If need be, federal funding powers over university places could be used to influence enrolment to secure the science teachers we need for the future."
The government is pointing to a recent report which highlighted a long-term decline in Year 12 enrolments in science and challenging maths subjects.
Intermediate and advanced maths enrolment declined from 54 to 36 per cent between 1992 and 2012.
"It is indeed a disturbing trend to see that we have fewer students proportionally studying high level maths or indeed science subjects, because we know that future jobs and our future economic strength as a nation is going to depend on the STEM disciplines," Senator Birmingham said in an interview with Adelaide's 5AA Mornings on Monday morning.
In 2013, around one in five general science teachers taking years seven to 10 classes had not completed at least one year of tertiary study in that area.
The government wants to see change in the education system within five to 10 years.
"Across Australia there’s been an increasing trend of teachers who are outside of the scope of their specialisation having to take maths or science subjects," Birmingham said.
"That’s why we’re committing as a Government to get the states and territories to agree to a new teacher workforce strategy, so we can pinpoint where we need extra physics teachers, chemistry teachers, maths teachers, to be able to really help ensure that this problem is addressed and fixed in the coming years."
Reports by both Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and businessman David Gonski pinpoint a need for better workforce data to understand teacher skills.
"Developing the workforce strategies recommended by both Finkel and Gonski is a key part of our national reform agreement with the states and territories," Senator Birmingham said in his speech.
"So that future generations of students get access to the STEM teachers needed to equip them for the modern world."
Opposition education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said Labor had been supporters of specialised teaching policies for some time.
"But how are the Liberals going to pay for it?" she tweeted on Monday.
"The Liberals are cutting $17 billion from schools, and that means fewer teachers, and less help with the basics like maths and science."
Birmingham, however, disagreed.
"Federal school funding grows from $17.5bn last year to $18.6bn this year to $29.5bn in 2027," he tweeted in response.
"Only Labor would call that a 'cut'. Don't believe Shorten's lies."
Birmingham also downplayed the cost of implementing his proposals.
"It shouldn’t really require a great deal of cost," he said on 5AA Mornings.
"There will be some admin costs in monitoring and getting the data around where the gaps are and developing the workforce teacher strategy. We’re already training record numbers of potential teachers in our universities, we just need to make sure they’re being trained in the right subject specialisation."