Student numbers are consistently drifting from high- to medium-level mathematics courses, and migrating from there to the lowest level. The nation needs mathematics, and mathematicians, to keep up with its traditional commercial rivals, and also with newer competitors such as China and India; yet the mathematics economy is losing out. It’s cool to drop out of mathematics at school, but no-one would be proud of being unable to read.

Sound familiar? Yes, it could easily be a paraphrasing of current concerns in Australia, but it’s actually a precis of a recently released report on mathematics in the UK, “The value of mathematics“, written for the UK think-tank Reform by Laura Kounine, John Marks and Elizabeth Truss. Started by a current Conservative MP and a former head of the Political Section in the Conservative Research Department, Reform includes among its executives and advisors the Rector of Imperial College, London, a British Liberal Democrat politician, and the former CEO of Vodafone.

The report lays the blame at the door of declining academic standards in schools, and a drift away from rigorous approaches to teaching mathematics.

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Terence Tao, on 15 June, 2008 at 4:31 am said:It does unfortunately seem that many of the issues facing Australian mathematics are also appearing in other countries.

There is a nice article in the Guardian by Marcus de Sautoy commenting on the Reform report at

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/03/maths.education

Terence Tao, on 16 June, 2008 at 12:58 am said:There was also an article in the Times yesterday on Stephen Hawking speaking out against the effects of a recent merger of two UK government research funding bodies on physics (due, apparently, to accounting miscalculations):

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article4138240.ece

Peter Hall, on 22 June, 2008 at 12:46 am said:On 18th June the BBC discussed the impact that shortages of mathematics, physics and computer science skills is having on the UK video games industry:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7460870.stm

In a section headed “Death of maths,” the article noted that:

“Fewer people are taking maths degrees. The games developers say that they are struggling to find in the UK the kind of high-powered mathematicians and computer scientists that they need to build increasingly sophisticated products.” A spokesman for the industry commented that “The dearth of maths, physics and computer science graduates is hitting us hard.”

The article implies that this is an industry where, if the mathematics skills are not present, then neither are jobs for many other people. Indeed, “Britain…slipped from third to fourth position behind Canada…and thousands of jobs are moving from Britain to Canada.”