Drop in demand forces Hull to axe maths

December 17, 2004

Hull University is to close its maths department in the face of falling student demand for the subject. The university has said that existing staff will be moved to York University to ensure that students "continue to have access to high-quality mathematics education in Yorkshire".

David Drewry, Hull's vice-chancellor, said: "Hull is not unique in experiencing recruitment difficulties in mathematics and we have to take notice of, and respond positively to, the needs and requirements of our students."

The move was condemned by the Association of University Teachers. Trevor Jarvis, a maths lecturer and secretary of Hull AUT, said: "It is not true to say that there is declining interest in maths in this region. The department exceeded its target this year." He said the department had been working with local schools to encourage applications.

Dr Jarvis added: "The key region at risk here is not Yorkshire, but the area that was known as Humberside. (It) is left without proper maths provision."

He said the introduction of fees meant that the student population was becoming less mobile. "People can't afford to go away to university any more - they go to their local one or not at all."

Hull said it would set up a new Centre for Mathematics to provide maths teaching for other disciplines, and it would continue to train school maths teachers.

Dr Jarvis commented: "This is a hurried add-on that appeared after staff and unions pointed out the serious knock-on effects and the far-reaching consequences the closure of maths would have."

He said the centre would not attract high-calibre mathematicians and would probably have to be closed in a few years.

Falling demand for maths degrees has long been a problem nationally. The number of A-level candidates fell by about 15 per cent between 1996 and 2003. Earlier this year, a government-commissioned review of maths education by Adrian Smith, principal of Queen Mary, London University, concluded that far more needed to be done to improve maths teaching in schools.

* The recent spate of departmental closures may be the result of a flawed response by universities to Government efforts to make higher education costs more transparent, a study has concluded, writes Tony Tysome.

The transparency exercise ushered in by the Chancellor three years ago to make institutions more accountable for what they spend may have inadvertently led to what researchers have called "costing myopia" - a narrow focus on costs resulting in short-sighted planning.

A survey of higher education colleges by Cardiff Business School lecturer David Stiles and Swansea Institute finance director Brian Lewis found widespread cross-subsidisation of courses and activities. It indicated that the subjects were so interrelated that separating the costs and benefits of each was very difficult.

Dr Stiles said: "The assumption of systems that are being encouraged under transparency is that you can identify the costs of all higher education activities reasonably easily. But the survey indicates that that is not true. It is more complex than that. It is not just narrow commercial costs that you have to consider when you are working out whether or not a course is efficient."

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