Mathematics and Statistics content comes as a surprise to many undergraduates

Tuesday, 24 June, 2014

Too many students don’t have a realistic understanding either of the relevance of Mathematics and Statistics to their discipline or of the demands that will be put upon them. That is one of the findings of a report, Mathematical transitions, published today by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), which examines the mathematical and statistical needs of students in undergraduate disciplines including Business and Management, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Sociology and Psychology.

“Many students are surprised at the amount of mathematical content in their undergraduate programmes and some struggle to cope with this content,” says Dr Mary McAlinden, Discipline Lead for Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research at the HEA.

“This project, and the accompanying reports, seeks to promote greater understanding between the higher education and pre-university sectors so that students will arrive at university better prepared and better able to cope with the mathematical and statistical demands of their undergraduate studies.”

Lack of confidence and anxiety about Mathematics and Statistics is also a problem for many students, making the transition into higher education particularly challenging. A number of recommendations are made within the report to address this problem, but overall it calls for better dialogue between the sectors so that pre-university students have a better understanding of what is expected of them and the higher education sector has a better understanding of what their undergraduates can do.

"Too few students in the UK study Mathematics after the age of 16,” explains Professor Jeremy Hodgen, King’s College London. “Yet the study demonstrates that Mathematics matters across a range of subjects at university. The report recommends that prospective undergraduates are better informed of this when applying to higher education."

The report also draws attention to developments at pre-university level, where new “Core Maths” courses are being designed to meet the needs of the many students (the report estimates at least 200,000 a year) who need Mathematics but for whom a full A-level would not be appropriate. It calls for higher education to become actively involved in and to influence this work.

Dr Janet De Wilde, Head of STEM at the HEA said: “This report demonstrates the importance that the HEA places on this topic. The recommendations it contains are valuable to the sector to help further the discussion between the secondary and tertiary sector to inform policy development and teaching practice to address the importance of mathematical and statistical skills.”