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Where have all the future mathematicians gone? Or are they still around? Report of Survey Team 1

Author(s): 

Survey Team 1. --- Chair: Derek Holton (New Zealand) - dholton@maths.otago.ac.nz --- Team members: Ren Zizhao (China) - renzz@mail.neea.edu.cn, Eric Muller (Canada) - emuller@brocku.ca, Oscar Adolfo Sánchez Valenzuela (Mexico), and Juha Oikkonen (Finland) - Juha.Oikkonen@helsinki.fi

Language: 

English

Keywords: 

Mathematics education, Tertiary/university education, Retention, Recruitment, Technology, Careers, Outreach

Abstract: 

The aim of this Survey Team is to generate discussion and information on what

is happening with student enrolments in undergraduate mathematics courses in a range of countries. Are student numbers really falling as seems to be the case in some places? If they are, what can be done about it? If in other places enrolments are increasing, what is happening there for this to be the case? We plan to determine what innovations exist to make mathematics at the tertiary/university level more appealing.

In the process of this survey we will find data about school and university enrolments and graduation rates over significant periods of time. We aim to determine where enrolments are increasing, and where they are declining either in absolute numbers or relative to total student enrolments. We will conduct questionnaires and speak to academics to determine their views.

Results so far suggest that there are a number of countries where enrolment and

graduation numbers are declining but there are countries where this is not the case. The People's Republic of China, for example, is one of the places where capacity is not able to keep up with demand.

Initial responses suggest that where numbers are declining they are not declining uniformly in that country and they are not necessarily falling for the same reasons. A number of academics tell us that students are leaving mathematics because they are finding it hard relative to other subjects. We also

hear that students don't want to put in a great deal of effort into mathematical study when there are 'no' jobs after graduation. In one country the job rewards may not be as good as they are in other areas but this may be systemic and a result of factors outside universities' control. In another country mathematics graduates may have no problem getting jobs, though graduates with only bachelor's degrees may not all use mathematics in their future careers. Whatever the local situation, there are many web sites that show that there are jobs that mathematicians take and they state the kind of mathematics that is used in these jobs.

In some universities service teaching to students majoring in other disciplines is a principle component of the total teaching load. While these courses may be valuable for income purposes, it does leave those mathematics departments vulnerable should the other disciplines decide to do this teaching themselves. We have a report that suggests how departments may avoid this problem.

Another area that we are investigating is the influence of university teaching on student enrolments. We find that there are places where a more interactive approach to large group teaching has led to doubling of numbers. We also find places that claim that students taking courses using technology increase their engagement in mathematics.

Finally we are concerned with the consequences of falling enrolments. At least one study cites the problem of recruiting secondary mathematics teachers as a direct result of declining undergraduate numbers. We will investigate possible consequences of falling numbers further.

In the final report of this Survey Team we will discuss the above and other factors in greater depth.

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