Tens of thousands of students are struggling to cope with the amount of maths needed in a range of subjects at university because they do not leave school with sufficient skills, a report has found.
A new report Mathematical Transitions from the Higher Education Academy has explored the experiences of staff and students on business and management, chemistry, computing, economics, geography, sociology and psychology degree courses.
Together these disciplines take on around 85,000 students, but, despite all requiring maths and statistics, few courses require an A-level in maths.
The report finds students struggle with elementary ideas such as calculating percentages and can struggle to apply knowledge in different contexts.
One of the most common problems, said the researchers, was the time that had elapsed between studying maths at school and starting their degrees. “Many students arrive at university with unrealistic expectations of the mathematical and statistical demands of their subject,” the report says.
Professor Jeremy Hodgen of King’s College London, one of the co-authors of the report, told TES that the report underlined the need for universities to get involved with the new ‘core mathematics’ qualification which is being developed for students who want to study maths after GCSE, but not take an A-level in the subject.
He said: “This situation hasn’t been designed by the universities, but universities ought to and can signal to students that they will need to use mathematics and having done some mathematics between 16 and 18 will help them.
“We now have a unique opportunity for universities to work with schools to improve mathematics. It can’t be done by universities on their own and it can’t be done by schools on their own but there is unique opportunity with core maths qualification to do something about this.”
He added that Ofqual were looking into increasing the mathematical demand of a number of subjects but that there was a limit to how much maths was appropriate within an A-level for another subject.
An earlier report from the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education found as many as 200,000 students need post-GCSE maths but do not study it at the moment.
The findings come after a report from the Royal Statistical Society last year which found that many young people were "too frightened of numbers" to engage with data.
The core maths courses, which are expected to be half the size of an A-level and taken over two years, are due to start in September 2015.
The Department for Education has consulted on what they should contain and the awarding bodies are now drawing up the qualifications. It is intending to set up a process to evaluate new or redeveloped qualifications each year.
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