Journal Ranking — the Second Incarnation

Australian academia is again in the throes of a journal ranking exercise.  We went through this last year in preparation for the previous government’s Research Quality Framework (RQF), but the new government wants to redo things for its Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). 

Again the journals must be placed into four tiers — the top 5% into tier A*, the next 15% into tier A, the next 30% into tier B, and the last 50% into tier C.  However, this time the Australian Research Council has done the ranking; they have re-ranked all the mathematical sciences journals.  This has involved

  1. a substantial reduction in the total number of journals that the ARC will currently accept (they have, of course, correspondingly reduced the number of journals we can place into bands A* and A); and
  2. the use of impact factors to rank journals in applied mathematics and statistics, and apparently also in mathematical physics.

Regarding the number of “research outlets” that the ARC is currently willing to regard as mathematical science journals, let me try to give you a sense of the scale of the changes.  According to my calculations, the new ARC list of ranked journals allocates 538 journals to pure mathematics, 211 journals to applied mathematics, 28 journals to mathematical physics, and 169 journals to statistics (including probability), making a total of 946 journals for the mathematical sciences.  However, the list produced last year allocated a total of 1369 journals to the mathematical sciences.  (These journals were a subset of those currently covered by MathSciNet.)  That is 45% more than the ARC list.  On this basis, and making some assumptions about uniformity of distribution among the four research areas, we should expect the ARC’s list to contain only two-thirds the number of journals in tiers A*, A and B as the previous list; and it does.

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Gazette Issue 3 (July 2008) now online

Issue 3 of the Gazette for 2008 is now available online.

Many Gazette readers will, no doubt, have experienced the `culture of numbers’ that has resulted from the growing reliance on quantitative methods to measure the quality of academic research.  In this issue we are very pleased to include a report from the International Mathematics Union on citation statistics, a considered response from those who “professionally ‘deal with numbers'” on the use of numerical measures in research assessment. Let’s hope it will trigger some constructive discussions both within the mathematical community and in the broader academic world.

Also in this issue, we are sad to report that this is the last installment of the excellent Style Files series written by Tony Roberts. Tony’s column has proved to be an invaluable resource not only for improving writing styles but for also passing these skills on to students. We have published all the columns together in a stand-alone series for download on the Gazette website so this resource remains easily accessible for all our readers.

Finally, we are always looking for contributions to our Maths@work and Classroom Notes series. If you are working on mathematics in government, industry or business, or you have something to contribute on mathematics education, we’d be very interested to hear from you.

We hope you enjoy this issue.

Birgit, Rachel and Eileen

Maths Matters

[This opinion piece is being submitted to the "Maths Matters" column of the Gazette of the Australian Mathematical Society.]

On 17 March 2008, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) at Toowoomba announced proposals to cut staff at the Department of Mathematics and Computing (which consists of the disciplines of mathematics, statistics, and computing) by almost 50%, eliminate all non-service teaching classes from the mathematics curriculum, and also eliminate the mathematics, statistics, physics, and chemistry majors at USQ.  These proposals were part of their rationalisation program entitled ““Realising our Potential“.  This program was not initiated in response to any immediate financial crisis at USQ – the university recently reported a doubling in its annual profit, to $10.3 million – but out of a desire to significantly change the spending profile of the university, in particular to reduce the proportion of university expenditure going towards staff.  The staff reductions in each department were not to be based on research performance, teaching, or service, but were instead to be determined on purely by the student enrolments in the majors of that department.

The Department of Mathematics and Computing, despite holding steady in its enrolments, with a strong record of research and teaching excellence, and earning a significant profit for the university (especially when counting the roughly $1.2 million annually in additional federal support to USQ associated to student enrollments in mathematics), bore a disproportionately high share of the burden of staff cuts in the initial proposal.  For instance, of the 15 net positions to be cut from the Faculty of Science, 12 were to come from this department, and 8 in particular from the 14 staff in the divisions of mathematics and statistics.  (Several other departments with much smaller enrollments were designated as “initiatives” and spared the worst of the cuts, and even received increased allocations in some cases.)

Staff cuts, particularly in mathematics and the “hard” sciences, are unfortunately an all too common occurrence these days in Australia, as well as overseas.  But the cuts at USQ were particularly severe, and would have severely impacted maths education and training in the region, as discussed by Peter Hall in the President’s Column in the previous issue of the Gazette.  Initial correspondence with the USQ administration on these matters did not get very far, and so in the beginning of April, I and several other Australian mathematicians launched an online campaign, at, to urge the USQ administration to work with the department to retain its mathematics training and education capability as much as possible.

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Australian 2008 IMO results

The Australian Mathematics Trust reports that Australian IMO team has just won 5 silver medals and one bronze medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Madrid, with a country ranking of 19th out of 97; this is Australia’s best showing in a few years.  Congrats to the Aussie team for their efforts (and for the Ashes victory!).

[The Olympiad problems can, of course, be downloaded from the official IMO site.]

(Thanks to Peter Taylor for the news.)

2008 Mathematics Ashes won by Australia

The Australian Mathematics Trust reports that the inaugural Mathematics Ashes has been won by the Australian IMO team.  (Thanks to Peter Taylor for the news.)

Interview with Clio Cresswell

There was a nice extended interview (almost an hour in length) on ABC classic FM on Monday by Margaret Throsby with Clio Cresswell (a senior lecturer in mathematics at the University of Sydney), being a light conversation about music, maths, and what the latter can offer to the layperson.  The audio for that interview can be found here.  I particularly liked Clio’s description of algebra, trigonometry, and mathematical abstraction in very accessible terms.

(Thanks to Phillip Brooker and Jan Thomas for the item.)

National Numeracy Review

The Australian is reporting today that the National Numeracy Review, commissioned two years ago by the Council of Australian Governments, has finished its final report (a background paper to the review can be found here, and a discussion paper with terms of reference can be found here.  Here is AMSI’s submission to the review).  The report raises concerns that the minimum standards for maths and numeracy skills at the primary and high school levels are too low, and recommends that teachers devote more time to these topics than is currently required.

The Australian is also running a statement by the education minister, Julia Gillard, on the importance of increasing achievement levels in literacy and numeracy, as well as a dissenting opinion by Kevin Donnelly, who warns of the dangers of forcing teachers who are inexperienced with mathematics into teaching more maths and numeracy skills to students.

Coincidentally, a similar report has been released in the U.S. by the National Council on Teacher Quality, entitled “No common denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools“.  (See also a recent recommendations on maths education by the U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel.)

[Update, July 16: additional links added; thanks to Jan Thomas for the references.]


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