Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex B

LMS Policy on Mathematics in Universities

  1.  Mathematics is a core subject in universities (and indeed in schools); it provides a language and an underlying structure for studies in all the sciences, in engineering, finance, economics, management and in education studies.

  2.  By their very nature, all these subjects develop; they are not static. The same holds good for mathematics, which also is dynamic and not static. New mathematics is frequently required by other disciplines, and indeed other subjects often provide a stimulus for new mathematics, just as mathematics can and does stimulate developments in the sciences and elsewhere.

  3.  There is a pressing (and recognised) national need for graduates in mathematics and for graduates with joint degrees involving mathematics, such as Mathematics with Computer Science or with Management Science. Such graduates are needed in schools, industry, the City, government service and elsewhere, and of course, within Universities themselves.

  4.  For the reasons indicated above, it is important that members of University departments of all kinds should have ready access to active professional mathematicians.

  5.  Teaching of mathematical subjects is intrinsically a person-intensive activity; students must come to terms with intellectually demanding concepts and the subject is sequential, requiring good mastery at each stage. This requires high levels of one-on-one contact with active professional mathematicians.

  6.  Mathematics is often, even usually, a component of study for a degree in many other fields, including for example, Physics, Electrical Engineering, Management Science and others. Such teaching of mathematics is often described as "Service Teaching". It is essential that such courses should be taught by those who are professional mathematicians and who have (or are prepared to acquire) an empathy with the other discipline, whether it be biology, chemistry, Equally essential is that there should be close, friendly relations between the mathematicians (usually the Mathematics Department) and the "receiving" department, so that there is real agreement on both the mathematical needs and the mode of teaching. In short, the students have to be motivated as to the need for certain types of mathematics; some students are happy with a study of mathematics "for its own sake", but the majority are not and require motivation. The needs of the students have to be paramount.

  The guiding principle for successful "Service Teaching" must be an academic one, with a firm adherence to the good of the students' education. A resort to financial considerations (as implied sometimes by a department taking on its own mathematics teaching) is usually not in the best interests of the students and is therefore unacceptable.

  7.  The changing patterns of pre-university preparation and the Government's wish to broaden access to higher education will require greater, not less, time to be devoted to the transitional period. Broadening access also requires potential students to have appropriate access to courses. This objective cannot be achieved if regions of the UK develop in which students (such as those unable to study far from home, mature students or those from less traditional backgrounds) have no local access to mathematics at higher education level.

  8.  For the reasons given above, the London Mathematical Society takes the view that every University should have a sound and visible core of research-active mathematicians. Without such a core a University is incomplete.

  Adopted by Council, January 2004

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