The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute has called on universities to reverse an historic low in the number of institutions requiring maths as a prerequisite to studying science, commerce or engineering.
Some 86 per cent of universities do not require maths as a prerequisite for science degrees, 87 per cent don’t require it for commerce degrees and 41 per cent don’t require it for engineering degrees, a report by the institute finds.
And those universities that do require students to have studied maths in year 12 only ask for it at the intermediate level, not the advanced level.
“As far as we know advanced maths is not a prerequisite for any formal course,” said AMSI director Geoff Prince.
The share of year 12 students taking intermediate and advanced maths has continued its long downward slide; only 28.7 per cent of year 12 students took intermediate or advanced maths in 2013, down from 28.9 per cent the year before.
Over the last two decades, students have shifted away from the harder options of intermediate and advanced maths, instead favouring elementary maths at year 12 level.
Professor Prince said the 20-year decline in year 12 students studying intermediate or advanced maths had the potential to halt productivity growth and was “choking the country’s galloping demand for these skills”.
“Universities must phase in restoration of maths prerequisites; the lack of them sends a negative and misleading message to schools about the value of these subjects,” he said.
NSW UNIS THE WORST
Universities in NSW have the worst record on prerequisites with no institutions requiring intermediate or advanced maths as a prerequisite for courses in science, engineering or commerce according to the report. Instead they say that maths is “assumed knowledge” for a particular course.
Professor Prince said universities were under pressure not to require maths because otherwise the numbers of students in courses would drop because of the fall in numbers of school students taking intermediate or advanced maths in year 12.
“The number of kids taking maths dropped which choked numbers in engineering degrees,” he said.
Science dean at the UNSW, Merlin Crossley, said the reason the university had moved away from maths prerequisites was that maths teacher shortages meant not all students got the chance to do advanced maths in schools. But said he would support a trial of restoring maths prerequisites.
The report did contain some good news which was that the proportion of year 12 students nationwide taking advance maths rose slightly in 2013, up to 9.6 per cent compared to 9.4 per cent in the previous year. But the proportion taking intermediate maths fell to 19.1 per cent in 2013, down from 19.5 per cent a year earlier.
BOYS BETTER THAN GIRLS
Boys continue to outnumber girls in intermediate and advanced maths. In year 12 in 2013, only 17.6 per cent of girls took intermediate maths compared to 20.7 per cent of boys. At advanced level, only 6.7 per cent of girls studied maths, compared to 12.7 per cent of boys.
Professor Prince said it would be helpful for students in senior school to understand the consequences of not taking advanced maths if they intended to study a science, engineering or commerce at university.”The universities need to communicate to schools that if you don’t have advanced maths you might have to pick up an extra subject,” he said.