Memorandum from the Institute of Mathematics
and its Applications
The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications
(IMA) is the professional and learned society for qualified and
practising mathematicians. Its mission is to promote mathematics
in industry, business, the public sector, education and research.
Founded in 1964, the Institute now has over 5,000 members. In
1990 the Institute was incorporated by Royal Charter and was subsequently
granted the right to award chartered mathematician status.
The IMA welcomes the opportunity to put forward
its views, concerning the actions being taken to safeguard an
adequate level of mathematics teaching and research across universities
in England. By logical, exact, quantitative, structural analyses,
and by powerful techniques of abstraction and modelling, mathematics
provides the underpinning for all other scientific study. Its
role in the physical and technological sciences is well-known;
there is a welcome growing awareness that it plays the same fundamental
part in the life sciences, in the economic and financial sciences,
and in the social and health sciences.
The mathematical sciences do not remain static
in a world of change, but constantly evolve. New applications
bring new challenges, and new problems, which require the development
of new tools, new methods, new theories. (The successful part
played by the UK mathematics community in such fundamental developments
is highlighted in the recent IRM, International Review of Mathematics
Research in UKcommissioned by the Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council.)
Mathematics, with its wide-ranging applications,
is nevertheless a fundamental discipline in its own right. It
is a coherent subject, and one where connections are of crucial
importance; in practice new ideas and understandings grow and
flourish through cross-fertilisation. It is a subject where theory
and practice are inextricably combined; doing mathematics is an
integral part of learning mathematics.
Mathematical talent is widely dispersed; successful
students of mathematics in universities and schools come from
a wide range of backgrounds, and the widening access agenda poses
no special problem for the subject. The completion of mathematics
A-levels and degrees with a significant mathematical component
are demonstrably life-enhancing; it is a challenge for us all
to convey that message to potential students and their families.
(The mathematical societies have collaborated in a new careers
website, www.mathscareers.org.uk, but that alone is insufficient.)
The IMA has very close links with the London
Mathematical Society (LMS) and has worked collaboratively on numerous
occasions. The two societies make up two thirds of the Council
for the Mathematical Sciences (CMS) which was established in 2001.
Along with the Royal Statistical Society, the CMS provides a forum
for the three mathematical societies. Taking this into consideration,
and reviewing the LMS's submission (Annex 1) (published as Appendix
68), the IMA would like the Science and Technology committee to
acknowledge our endorsement of the LMS submission. We strongly
agree with the opinions of the LMS, to the points set by the committee.
The IMA has, however, provided additional comments that we feel
the committee needs to be advised of.
No additional comments.
Until recently, the previous pattern of provision
of mathematics courses at undergraduate and at postgraduate levels,
which functioned well and had a stable existence, were made up
of a number of key elements. One of these was a number of internationally-renowned
departments attracting the best researchers and offering outstanding
opportunities for research training. Another element was those
departments whose main focus was on applications of mathematics,
and these were often highly committed to teaching mathematics
as a supporting study in engineering, science etc Several such
departments also developed "practice-based" mathematics
courses. However, in addition to modest recruitment to these courses,
internal funding considerations have rendered these departments
vulnerable. The continuing process of closure is contributing
to the erosion of the mathematics base, the presence of which
is an essential element in any attempt to deal with the identified
problems with school mathematics.
No additional comments.
Mathematics degree courses are best taught in
research active departments, by staff who are actively in engaged
in doing mathematics and not just talking about it; students of
other disciplines benefit from being taught by staff active in
mathematics as well as actively engaged in collaborative work.
Every University needs a group of mathematicians
developing their field, since research underpins and informs teaching
in this all-pervasive subject. Small "critical masses"
of specialists should come together to form a subject-focussed
department. Whilst there are higher education institutions overseas,
where mathematics academics are embedded in other departments,
these are usually much larger departments than exist in UK universities
and the mathematicians form a self-sufficient, often self-managing
subset. It is often the case that those mathematicians in one
such department rarely, if ever, interact with those in another
department, leading to a loss of opportunity for cross-fertilisation
of ideas, sharing experience and so on.
To be meaningful a "mathematical presence"
in an institution must imply the existence of a coherent group
of mathematically-trained academics whose specialisms cover the
mathematics needs of the courses (including post-graduate courses)
on offer. Their specialisms should also be appropriate for supporting
the research being carried out in an institution, and thus needs
may vary from one institution to another.
At the HE teaching level, there needs to be
a group of people who are well qualified in mathematics and who
can be called upon to deliver structured courses in mathematics
to support this vital part of these other disciplines. In addition,
in schools, teachers need to have time and resources for subject-specific
professional development, so that their contact with the living
subject can inform and enthuse their pupils. We believe that there
is a great need for improved linkage between maths school teachers
and their local university maths department. This will aid the
provision of enrichment materials to local school maths teachers.
Inter-alia, data on salaries indicates
that nationally there is an undersupply of graduates with high
mathematical ability; this undersupply could be met through widened
participation. It is firmly believed that action based on local
provision can make the most significant contribution to recruitment
from non-traditional applicant categories. "Practice-based"
mathematics courses, with an appropriate focus, could well prove
attractive to these groups, supporting the case for good national
provision. Furthermore, in any geographical region, especially
an isolated one, reasonable alternatives should be available to
prospective students who cannot travel far so that they are not
compelled to live away from home in the event the only local university
does not accept them.
Efforts need to be made to attract applicants
from non-traditional backgrounds, perhaps to "practice-based"
courses, where the immediate employment possibilities will be
apparent. Undergraduates working in schools can help in this but,
as Smith was at pains to point out, financial incentives can also
play a part.
Finally, the Smith report on mathematics 14-19,
and the government's response to it, has placed emphasis on the
need to provide a strong subject-specific element to programmes
of CPD for mathematics teachers. University-based mathematicians
clearly have an important role to play here, and since CPD will
largely be delivered through local networks, this is a further
argument for taking measures to stop the continuing erosion of
the mathematics base through departmental closure.
This aim would be supported by the recognition
that financial incentives, through fee waivers for example, could
provide the necessary motivation. In the short term, universities
need to maintain, and indeed increase, their contact with schools,
through visits or through the Undergraduate Ambassador scheme
etc In this connection, a defined role for university departments
in "the sustainable local networks", as envisaged in
the DfES response to the Inquiry report, could serve to raise
the importance of this work in the minds of vice-chancellors.
The Government may wish to consider a public
demonstration of concern for the subject. This might serve to
convince pupils and teachers that the prospects of employment
are good following a study of mathematics.
However, in the LMS submission, they recommend
that "only through Government intervention can the aims set
out in these responses can be achieved." The IMA are fully
aware that this situation is very unlikely to occur, and is in
favour of the Government "shadowing", as Clarke advised
in the DfES Press Release, dated 1st December 2004, "Charles
Clarke Seeks Protection for Courses of National Strategic Importance".
A copy of this press release can be found attached (annex 2) (not
Mathematics exists as a fundamental discipline
in its own right. In addition, through the application of mathematical
methods and techniques, it has developed into an essential tool
for logical investigations and development in science (including
the biological sciences), the social sciences (including health
sciences), engineering, technology, economics, finance and business.
The list of areas of applications continues to grow.
Whilst the numbers of those who contribute significantly
to the advancement of the fundamental discipline will be relatively
small, very many will produce greater understanding or advancement
in the areas of application. Yet still more people will use mathematics
as part of their everyday life and work and they need a firm grasp
of the basic tools of mathematics and the strengths and weaknesses
of its applications in their areas of activity. For perhaps the
majority, a mathematical training helps to discipline the mind,
it develops critical and logical reasoning, and it strengthens
both analytical and problem-solving skills.
Making Mathematics Count, the report
of Professor Adrian Smith's inquiry into mathematics 14-19 (2004).
DfES Press Release, 1 December 2004"Charles
Clarke Seeks Protection for Courses of National Strategic Importance."