UK research to sit international maths test

June 13, 2003

A team of the world's top mathematicians is about to find out how good the UK is at the subject.

The 13-strong group plans to descend on Britain in December as part of a project to assess British mathematics and statistics against world competition. It aims to produce an action plan to remedy any weaknesses that it discovers.

The review will form part of a series organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, intended to look for strengths and weaknesses in British science.

The initiative will almost certainly result in demands for more cash for neglected areas of mathematics research to pay for more scientists and equipment in the areas of weakness that it uncovers.

The review team is chaired by Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, head of the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques in France, who has carried out a similar exercise in Canada. The team's members come from France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark and the US - which has seven delegates.

The review is being managed by the London Mathematical Society. Peter Cooper, executive secretary of the society, said: "The group will look mainly at research and how it is applied. The job is difficult because in mathematics you can get a lone researcher doing important work. It is not like particle physics, where you have to be in a group of 50 to take part at all.

"The team expects that mathematics is there to be used, and will want to know how it is applied. But the main aim is to find out how good mathematics research in the UK is in comparison with world standards; where it needs to be strengthened; and what ambitions British mathematicians have."

EPSRC, the UK's main funder of mathematics research, said the visit will not aim to replicate the research assessment exercise and will not lead to departments being ranked.

The aim, says the council, is to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities - and to produce an action plan.

This review is the sixth of its kind to be run by EPSRC, which has so far reviewed physics, chemistry, materials science, computer science and engineering. There are plans to revisit the latter with a second review.

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