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Maths skills for engineering get a much-needed boost, says Bernard Adams

Engineering departments at UK universities are in despair. The number of students opting for engineering is falling and even the students who do turn up with good A-levels often have difficulty applying their mathematical knowledge.

Nationally, more than 3,000 (13 per cent) engineering and technology students drop out of their courses in the first year - a frustrating statistic when you consider the shortage of talent in this area.

To combat the flow of disheartened students, the recently published Roberts Review recommends that schools and universities should promote special entry support courses to bridge the gap between A-level and university. The report advises that such courses should be completed before the student's first year begins and that they should be taught "in person andor through e-learning."

The shortage of maths teachers makes the "in person" bit problematic. In view of this, the arrival of the new Maths for Engineers WebDisk is timely. The package from Educational Broadcasting Services Trust consists of a DVD-Rom and a CD-Rom featuring three separate elements.

Fifteen short video case studies feature maths modelling in relation to real-life situations and objects such as avalanches, lock gates and incense-burners.

In addition to the case-studies, Tom Roper, from Leeds University School of Education goes through all the basic maths topics that students need to cover with 29 felt-tip and drawing board talks. "These seminars go at the pace of a student writing down equations," says EBST managing partner Jim Stevenson. "This factor and the intimacy of Roper's style create in the student a sense of virtual warmth and communication - telling you, and then showing you how it's done."

The third element of the package consists of interactive exercises - taken from TransMATH, the University of Leed's transition maths resource. In total, there are 12 hours of video and text, 50 interactive topics and a link to a related website.

The Maths for Engineers WebDisk is an Innovations Fund project and a collaboration between the University of Leeds, Media Ink and the EBS Trust. The disk costs pound;89.95 and is available from the EBS Trust, 36-38 Mortimer Street, London W1W 7RG. Tel: 020 7765 5023Email: Roberts Review was commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Trade and Industry to find ways to encourage the supply of high quality scientists and engineers.

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