Maths research is 'world-class'

June 11, 2004

Key areas of mathematics research could get new money from the research councils and other backers in response to an international report on the strengths and weaknesses of the UK academic maths community.

The review concludes that although most areas of the country's maths research are world-class, there are some areas such as complexity, and parts of statistics, that are less competitive on the global stage and are facing problems such as ageing academics.

The report is the latest in a series of reviews undertaken by leading international researchers. The reviews were commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to ensure the world standing of UK research.

John O'Reilly, chief executive of the EPSRC, said that several areas of mathematics had been identified as lacking effective research leadership.

He said they "risk becoming fragmented and having too little coverage".

The EPSRC had identified areas that needed new capacity and would put £10 million towards them, Professor O'Reilly said. The research council hopes to bring in more cash from funding councils, industry, universities and other sources.

Professor O'Reilly said the EPSRC was spending about £13.5 million a year on grants in mathematics, plus money for PhDs and other support for the subject. "This is about twice our spend five years ago, and the message from this report is that most UK mathematics is world-class," he said.

But the report, produced by a group led by Jean-Pierre Bourguignon of France's Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, found that mathematics is often unable to compete with the pay packages available in industry.

Professor O'Reilly said: "Salaries are a serious inhibitor across... science and engineering. But maths graduates have far more career options than people from other subjects."

He said the UK does not have to be present in all areas of maths research.

"But in areas where we want to establish a presence and there are no long-established researchers, we shall ask universities to help identify complementary skills that they have which we can build on, perhaps by funding academic or research posts for a few years."

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