Demand more from students to improve maths literacy, report urges

Universities should toughen up their demands for mathematical qualifications, including in non-science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, a taskforce has said.

August 8, 2011

In a report published today, A World Class Education in Mathematics For All Our Young People, the taskforce commissioned by education secretary Michael Gove and led by TV presenter Carol Vorderman says that if universities set higher hurdles they will help to increase the uptake of maths at school and college level.

While acknowledging that it is primarily STEM subjects that draw directly on maths, the report also stresses the advantages of a strong mathematical background for students undertaking a wide range of courses, including psychology and law.

Highlighting the low level of students with an A level in the subject, it says that many undergraduates are unprepared for the mathematical requirements of their degrees.

In order to counter this problem, Ms Vorderman and her co-authors advocate the compulsory provision of maths up to the age of 18.

They suggest that such a measure would reduce the costs of supplementary and remedial maths programmes often provided by universities, while preventing students from feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by the mathematical content of their course.

For maths degrees, the report advises that universities should make an A level in further maths a standard requirement.

The report claims that, taken together, these measures will ensure graduates are better prepared to enter the workplace due to the analytical, logical and problem-solving skills they gain, as well as the greater confidence they will have in handling numerical tasks.

Responding to the publication of the report, Dame Julia Higgins, chair of the Advisory Committee on Mathematics, said: “We are pleased to see the importance of an excellent mathematical education being highlighted by another major report.

“Carol’s work taps into one of the biggest concerns of not only the mathematics community, but also of higher education and business, that too few people study mathematics up to the age of 18.”

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