Mathematics HE Summit – January 2011

Here is an update I have written, really for a HE mathematician audience, about the Summit:

The Mathematics HE Summit took place at the University of Birmingham on 12 January 2011, operated by the Maths, Stats and OR (MSOR) Network as part of the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project within the National HE STEM Programme. This brought together: Heads of Mathematics or their representatives from 25 universities offering mathematics degrees (about half of those in England and Wales); Education representatives from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the Royal Statistical Society, the Operational Research Society and the Council for the Mathematical Sciences; members of the National HE STEM Programme, sigma and the MSOR Network; and several individuals.

The day was chaired by Prof. Duncan Lawson and opened with a debate, in which Prof. Alexandre Borovik of University of Manchester proposed and Jon McLoone of Wolfram Research opposed the motion ‘We believe that memory, subject knowledge and technical fluency remain vital for undergraduate mathematicians in the digital age’. Following this, breakout groups discussed the topics: ‘We can’t let them graduate unless…’; ‘If maths students can’t communicate in writing or speak in public – is that my problem?’; and ‘If most maths graduates “aren’t confident” in handling unfamiliar problems – should we care?’ After lunch the Summit received feedback from the morning discussions and an update on employer engagement activity from the Mathematical Sciences Strand by David Youdan. The Summit heard and discussed presentations from Prof. Jeremy Levesley on ‘Taking control of the assessment agenda’ and Dr. Neil Challis on ‘What do the students think about their Maths degrees?’ A final set of breakout sessions considered the topic: ‘Imagine there is £100k-£150k in total available to support curriculum development across the sector, how best should this be targeted and what are the priority areas?’

The National HE STEM Programme is a large scale initiative funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales (HEFCE and HEFCW) which aims to address widening participation, curriculum innovation and higher level skills in the workforce in Mathematical Sciences, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, with a particular interest in the role of employers in these activities. The Mathematical Sciences Strand is overseen by a group of societies and others, comprising the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), the London Mathematical Society (LMS), the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences (HoDoMS), sigma and the MSOR Network. Within the Mathematical Sciences Strand, the MSOR Network is responsible for HE Curriculum Innovation – exploring current learning, teaching and assessment practices within mathematical sciences departments, and disseminating good practice. The MSOR Network has employed Peter Rowlett to operate this activity, which runs until July 2012.

Initial feedback from the Summit has been very positive. Michael Grove, National HE STEM Programme Director, said, “It was great to see so many people from the mathematics community involved, and great to see so many people present with whom the Programme is currently working.” The Summit provided a day of debate, provocative presentations and discussion which was captured by a group of volunteer notetakers. The findings will be written up for dissemination and used by the MSOR Network when planning activities in the remainder of the Mathematical Sciences HE Curriculum Innovation Project.

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