Osborne in £600m drive to set up elite maths schools run by businesses and charities

By JAMES CHAPMAN, in Daily Mail 25 November 2011:

Gifted teenagers will be able to apply to new selective free schools specialising in maths as part of a £600million initiative.

The money will be made available to set up 100 more state schools run by businesses, universities and charities.

At least a dozen will be controlled  by university maths departments  and academics, Chancellor George Osborne and Michael Gove will announce next week.

Read more in Daily Mail.


House of Lords, Call for Evidence: Higher Education in STEM Subjects

Call for Evidence: Higher Education in STEM Subjects
Deadline for submissions: 16 December 2011

It looks like the inquiry is very wide in its scope and open ended, and will take evidence which goes beyond the specific questions asked. But these questions are also quite interesting; a random example:

Should state funding be used to promote Masters degrees and is the balance right between the number of Masters degree students and PhD students?

The Sub-Committee further clarifies:

Witnesses are encouraged to focus on those issues of which they have particular knowledge or experience—submissions are not required to cover all questions.

Therefore it looks like evidence from mathematicians on matters of mathematics education in universities has a chance of being given consideration. Continue reading

The role of supervisors in PhD studies in pure mathematics

In discussion of mathematics PhD studies, a certain issue frequently arises which concerns the nature of pure mathematical research in general: (non)-interchangeability of PhD supervisors in mathematics.

Indeed university administrators (especially at the level of science and engineering faculties) appear to be surprised by claims that a particular PhD supervisor of a PhD student cannot be easily replaced in this role.

The administrators’ argument runs as follows.

“We need a supervisor for XX when ZZ is made redundant. I understand that the pure group here is very strong.

But I am told that there is nobody else who can supervise XX. Therefore the pure group is not as strong as I thought it was.

So perhaps we should review our support to it”.

The fallacy in this argument comes from the fact that the pure group is, on the whole, only as strong as the sum of its parts. Pure mathematicians work alone, or in groups of two or three at most, and  not in large teams which, one can assume, is common in

experimental science and engineering departments. Each area of research within pure mathematics is highly technical and specialised, and it is impossible to enter another area quickly. The amount of background reading (which might involve going back 50 years—maths never goes out of date!) is just too large. This is even true at the level of supervising PhD students. When they apply here (or anywhere) they apply to the person, not the group, because they know roughly what they want to work in. Continue reading