Submission by AMSI Management Committee 2: Mathematics and statistics education and training in universities

Prof Geoff Prince
AMSI Director

Simi Henderson
Program manager (Research and Higher Education)

The full submission by AMSI management can be viewed here.

Theme 1: Curriculum for specialist mathematics and statistics coursework-based programs

There needs to be a better alignment of the undergraduate curriculum with workplace demands, current and future. This begs the question of the nature of that demand. The discipline should initiate a project with DEEWR, state government departments and employer groups to determine that demand. Statistics and operations research immediately come to mind.

Students with majors in mathematics and statistics should graduate with a portfolio of work which will aid their employment prospects. Three years’ worth of marked assignments and a transcript are inadequate.

The discipline should, with faculties of science and education and state departments of education, take a planned approach to filling the vast unfilled demand for trained secondary mathematics teachers. (Between 30% and 40% of maths classes are taught by teachers without sufficient mathematical qualifications.) This will involve identifying study pathways for undergraduates, particularly for the large number of biology graduates who currently enter the teaching workforce.

Relevant AMSI policies:

  1. A five-year national awareness campaign for mathematics and statistics targeted at both the school and higher education sectors. This campaign will highlight the importance of school mathematics studies for a wide variety of careers and trades and encourage the provision of effective advice on subject choice at secondary and post-secondary levels.
  2. Measures to increase the number of suitably prepared undergraduates who could proceed to teach school mathematics, including the effective advice on subject choice. Include incentives for early commitment by undergraduates to pre-placement training. Introduce a HECS-free honours year for those subsequently completing teacher training. NOTE: Year 11 and 12 mathematics subjects should in general be taught by those with a major in mathematics and/or statistics.
  3. Introduce an undergraduate scholarship scheme for students studying mathematics or statistics. This scheme should contain a component intended for students who wish to study the discipline but have been unable to access advanced mathematics subjects at year 12. The scholarships should be extendable into a postgraduate teaching qualification.
  4. HECS-free places in those first year university subjects designed to bridge mathematically under-prepared students into programs requiring mathematics and statistics.
  5. HECS-free places for Honours and two-year Masters in mathematics and statistics to improve retention into PhD programs.
  6. Honours subjects in all disciplines should be treated separately along with postgraduate coursework. Teaching at this level is more intensive, out of class consultation commitments are higher and thesis supervision (typically between 25 and 50 per cent of the year) is particularly intense.

Theme 2: Service teaching

AMSI and its members support the principle that service teaching should be undertaken by the expert discipline in close conjunction with the client disciplines. This goal was articulated in the 2006 Strategic Review, but clearly aspiration alone is insufficient and the discipline should undertake discussions with Universities Australia. AMSI is ideally placed to arrange this on behalf of its members.

Relevant AMSI policies:

  1. The discipline’s unique status as a service discipline and its impact on delivery costs should be acknowledged.
  2. University mathematics and statistics subjects should normally be taught by the expert discipline. This measure will not only support mathematics and statistics departments but will produce high quality teaching and learning outcomes. Of course this teaching enterprise may be a joint one with the client discipline but this is to be encouraged. One exception is where statisticians are embedded in other disciplines and teach in-house statistics subjects.

Theme 3: Collaboration and cooperation

AMSI’s byline is “National Collaboration in the Mathematical Sciences” and our members collaborate through AMSI in delivering Vacation Research Scholarships (50 per year for third year students), the AMSI Summer School (8 honours level subjects) and the delivery of Access Grid subjects at honours level (around 15 per year). We also produce careers resources and events for undergraduate students. AMSI is currently pursuing funding for an awareness program which will actively inform undergraduate students of professional activity in the discipline, especially outside the academic sector. Such a campaign is at the top of AMSI’s agenda and has been endorsed by the Chief Scientist. It is at the core of the current Australian Mathematics and Science Partnerships Project (AMSPP) bid by AMSI and its membership in partnership with Australian secondary schools.

The teaching initiatives of the AustMS and the work undertaken in university maths & stats departments under various OLT grants are to be commended.

Theme 4: Diversity in student recruitment and retention

AMSI has advocated the return of prerequisites for science and engineering degrees (see below).
The removal or dilution of these prerequisites in response to dropping student numbers has had an insidious effect on enrolments in calculus-based subjects at year 12.

Nonetheless study pathways for students, mature-aged and otherwise, need to cater for those without adequate preparation for university study in the discipline. A collaborative approach to the delivery of the subjects required is highly desirable and, with the advent of the national curriculum, more achievable than before.

Relevant AMSI policies:

  1. Reinstate universal Year 12 mathematics prerequisites for science degrees commencing 5 years after the introduction of the senior Australian mathematics curriculum. Introduce DEEWR incentives to do so.
  2. Reinstate Year 12 advanced mathematics prerequisites for engineering degrees where appropriate commencing 5 years after the introduction of the senior Australian mathematics curriculum. Introduce DEEWR incentives to do so.
  3. Those first year university subjects designed to bridge mathematically under-prepared students into programs requiring mathematics and statistics should be fully funded by the Commonwealth (that is, HECS-free).

Further reading:
Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Policy measures in the national interest (March 2013)

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Submission to the Higher Education Base Funding Review (March 2011)

Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, Mathematics Education For 21st Century Engineering Students (March 2008)

Further information on some of the relevant AMSI initiatives:
Vacation Scholarships

AGR subjects and courses

Summer School

Career resources

This entry was posted in Education and training in universities. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply