The proposal comes in response to statistics showing that student enrolment in STEM subjects is declining, while many STEM teachers have no specific specialisation in the area.
Among the solutions being discussed is the possibility of using funding cuts to force universities to alter their entry prerequisites, with the intention of generating more STEM-specialist education graduates.
Education Minister Birmingham said that he is confident university cooperation will make following through on his threats to funding unnecessary.
“I’ve indicated that we have to do whatever it takes to get skilled, science-focused teachers in classrooms teaching science,” he said.
“I’m confident that there is goodwill from both the states and territories and universities to address this problem, but if we encountered a problem, then the Federal Government does have the powers in terms of funding agreements with the universities to be able to require them to focus in certain areas.”
The ultimate goal of the Government’s proposal is to ensure that every high school has access to specialist STEM teachers, so that other teachers are no longer required to teach outside their disciplines.
Dr Jane Hunter of the University of Technology Sydney expressed scepticism about the plan.
“Where are these people who are going to teach the STEM disciplines going to come from?” she said.
“Recruiting teachers to teach the STEM disciplines has been historically difficult in Australia; there is a worldwide shortage of teachers in these disciplines.”
Hunter said that her research shows that primary school teachers, when given sufficient professional development opportunities, are highly capable of teaching STEM classes.
Dr Anne Forbes of Macquarie University, however, welcomed the plan.
“The research is clear that all science and mathematics high school teachers should have deep knowledge of their subject areas,” she said.
“The Federal Government’s plan to ensure that all high schools have teachers with expertise in maths and science through study at a university level is to be commended.
"The trick will be how to recruit and how to monitor compliance.”
The Federal Government will be asking its state and territory counterparts to sign on to a new school reform package by the end of the year, which includes measures to help identify teacher skill shortages.