Mathematical transitions: a report on the mathematical and statistical needs of students undertaking undergraduate studies in various disciplines. Jeremy Hodgen, Mary McAlinden, Anthony Tomei. June 2014. Further information and detailed results of the project are available at the HEA website.

This report covers issues relating to maths in a range of subjects including Business and Management, Chemistry, Economics, Geography, Sociology and Psychology but there is also some interesting data relating to Biology and many of the themes that have emerged are common to all. A few things caught my eye:

1- In 2013 the proportion of students doing biology degrees who had A level maths was 38%, an increase from 26% in 2006 and 35% in 2009 (sourced from UCAS data). In 2013 a further 12% took AS Maths giving a total of 50% of biology students taking some form of post-GCSE maths. It will be interesting to see what effect the decoupling of AS levels from A levels and the introduction of Core Maths will have on these figures.

2- The report recommends the use of diagnostic testing of incoming students. This worries me because, in my experience, if it’s not done well diagnostic testing can be very destructive of confidence and it can reinforce anxiety levels even if it is followed up with targetted support. Research needs to be done on this before it’s implemented.

3- Expectations of both students and academic staff are important and the report highlights the fact that more needs to be done, possibly through outreach.

At the heart of this recommendation, as indeed of this report, is a desire that pre-university students should have a better understanding of what is expected of them and that higher education should have a better understanding of what their new undergraduates can do.

Given that many academics fear reducing student recruitment if they emphasise the maths too much I’m not sure how this is going to come about in practice.

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