Half of lecturers surveyed about the mathematical background of engineering students said poor standards were undermining the quality of degrees.
The survey by Rosamund Sutherland and Stefano Pozzi, of University of London Institute of Education, looked at case studies of undergraduate engineering courses chosen from four universities and an analysis of pre-university mathematics courses. The students' decreasing competence in mathematics, according to the report, can be attributed to the lower A-level grades now accepted as entrance qualifications to engineering courses, and also to the increased number of students entering the discipline via the vocational route.
Students who entered after taking vocational qualifications were found to be often weaker than those who had taken A-levels. University departments were therefore advised to try to accept BTEC and S COTVEC Nationals from further education colleges, which place a strong emphasis on mathematics.
The mathematical topics of trigonometry, differential calculus, differential equations, integration and algebraic manipulation were found to cause greater problems for today's students compared with 10 years ago.
Denis Filer, director general of the Engineering Council, said: "The findings of this research are a matter of concern. They merit close attention and action to ensure that undergraduate engineers are offered appropriate studies in mathematics at the right level to equip them for their professional careers. "
The Changing Mathematical Background of Undergraduate Engineers, Engineering Council, 10 Maltravers Street, London WC2R 3ER.