HoDoMS - Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences

HoDoMS
Heads of Department of Mathematical Sciences

Professor Charles M. Goldie

Dean, School of Mathematical Sciences

University of Sussex

Brighton

BN1 9QH

Chairs Report to 2002 AGM, 4th April 2002

The CMS and the QAA

We have established good relations with the Council for the Mathematical Sciences, which is a committee consisting of the Presidents of the IMA, the LMS and the RSS supported by their officers, under rotating chairmanship. I attended its most recent meeting on March 1st. The main area we have worked together on has been QAA matters, following the QAAs issuing its Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications, and a draft Benchmark for Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research (MSOR), early in 2001. Issues concerning the MMath and MSc degrees, credits, and the standards expected of graduands at various levels, were left unresolved by these papers, and the CMS set up a working party consisting of Peter Saunders (Chair), Gerald Goodall and myself to formulate some agreed positions. We drafted two Briefing Papers, The Future of the MMath and The MSc and the QAA Framework for Qualifications, which after consultation and revision were adopted by the CMS, made available on the web (at http://ltsn.mathstore.ac.uk/MMath, thanks to the LTSN MSOR Network) and sent to the QAA. The MSOR Benchmark does not cover the MMath or the MSc, and it is hoped that the Briefing Papers will to some extent make up for that lack, in particular to those engaged in the new model for Quality Assurance. The Briefing Papers also address the problem of the attainment expected by the Framework for Qualifications, which involves for instance taught degrees reaching the frontiers of research, and offer an interpretation appropriate for the MSOR subject area.

Other CMS matters

We raised the issue of the next RAE: should there continue to be three Units of Assessment for MSOR, or two, or one? I have drafted a short summary of the various arguments, for further consideration. While there certainly are arguments for the status quo, only HoDoMS will make the point that handling three distinct submissions is burdensome on departments and their Heads.

The SET Student of the Year Awards are offered in every major science, and some not-so-major ones (Food Technology, ), but mathematics and statistics are conspicuously absent. The CMS member societies support the creation of a prize or prizes in our area, and private contacts are being pursued with a view to gaining commercial sponsorship.

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

The QCA is responsible for A and A/S Levels (among other things). Members of the HoDoMS Committee had two regular meetings with the QCA Mathematics Team, and an extra meeting on the QCAs initiative with the Head of its Curriculum Division, to whom the Mathematics Team reports. This underlined the concern felt within government and the QCA over the anomalously high failure rate in A/S Level Mathematics last summer. We pressed for A-Level standards to be maintained, but with adjustments to the pace at which school pupils take the material in each of the two years of the course. We undertook to reassure Vice-Chancellors that the problem was being effectively addressed, and that any consequent dip in mathematics (or science or engineering) applications would be temporary.

At the regular meetings we ranged over Curriculum 2000 in Mathematics as a whole, together with numerous other topics: geometry, Advanced Extension Awards, Numeracy, .

Departments under threat

Walter Middleton presented his survey under the above title to last years Conference. There has been one public flurry of concern since then, over Essexs plan to close its mathematics department, and I exchanged letters with the Vice-Chancellor of Essex about that. Other departments are suffering unpublicised difficulties, and the national situation remains worrying given the problems over A/S Level and the unexpectedly high decline in applications for maths degrees in the current application round. It is your job to take back to your VCs the message of reassurance referred to above, and to insist on the continued centrality of the mathematical sciences to the science base and the countrys prosperity over the present century.

EPSRC

The Committee is worried by HEFCEs agenda of setting up threshold standards for research training. There is a danger that bureaucratic structures set up for this purpose with big science departments in mind could oppress typical mathematics and statistics departments, with their much lower numbers of research students. Related remarks in the DTI Quinquennial Review of the Research Councils (November 2001) are highly alarming: Councils should increase their surveillance of quality both of content and individuals, and where necessary take steps to improve one or both aspects even at the expense of volume. I wrote to the Head of the EPSRC Mathematics Programme expressing our concerns, and received a soothing reply. But concerns remain, and in my view the whole of our community should be vigilant.

Unity

Like previous HoDoMS Chairs I am concerned at the weak and divided image of our subject consequent on our supporting three learned societies/professional bodies, or four if one adds in Operational Research. Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science each have one body and hence one strong voice, while Engineering has the Engineering Council with its own charter and premises, over and above the specialist engineering institutions. In our area the recent creation of the Council for the Mathematical Societies is a welcome step, but that body is hampered in effectiveness and speed of response by all its business having to be referred back to its member societies. It also excludes OR. Further development is in my view a real need.

As for HoDoMS, we are a provider lobby rather than a learned or professional society, and thus have a clear and distinct role. Some of our concerns and activities overlap with those of the Committee of Professors of Applied Mathematics (CPAM) and the Committee of Professors of Statistics (COPS). I have been invited to address CPAM in May on QAA-related matters, and am a member of COPS in my own right, so I hope to discuss with the leadership of those committees how we might cooperate and practice division of labour in future.

The Officers and Committee

As in previous years it is a pleasure to thank the HoDoMS Officers for devoted work: the Hon. Secretary Neil Challis for making this Conference a success and for servicing the Committee, the Treasurer Martin Everett for maintaining our finances in good order, and the Vice-Chair Nigel Steele and former Chair Ken Houston for much invaluable advice. Unlike the bodies that HoDoMS interacts with, we have no infrastructure or support staff, so rely entirely on goodwill and voluntary effort. Special thanks to Nigel Steele, who is stepping down as an Officer and from the Committee at this point.

Other members of the Committee also give generously of their time in representing HoDoMS at meetings with other bodies. In addition we have cause to be grateful to Peter Saunders of KCL, former Chair of the LMS Education Committee and now of the LMS Schools Education Committee, whose expertise on university curriculum matters and also on school education knows no bounds, and who has often joined our delegation to the QCA.

The Committee has co-opted members representing the IMA, LMS and RSS, and during the year Maurice Dodson was replaced as LMS representative by Jim Howie of St Andrews, Maurice having been summoned to other duties for the LMS. We decided to co-opt an OR representative, and Jeff Griffiths of Cardiff was nominated by the OR Society. It is valuable that these two co-options increase the Committees representation from Scotland and Wales considerably. Thanks are due to Maurice for his useful contributions in a short period of membership, and welcomes to Jim and to Jeff.

Your Committee has met on three occasions during the year, in Birmingham immediately after the last AGM and twice in London, in September at the RSS and in January at the LMS. We are grateful to those two Societies for the use of their facilities. In between meetings we conduct much business by e-mail.