Making maths count

Posted on 14 Apr 2010 by The Manufacturer

A call to arms on promoting and improving the teaching of STEM subjects has been answered - arguably with an emphasis on where it is most needed.

Yesterday ( April 13) the university admissions body, UCAS formally recognised a new qualification, Maths for Engineering, by endowing it with 90 UCAS points – 30 more than are currently attributed to traditional AS levels.

Evidence put forward at an enquiry into the teaching of mathematics by the Children, Schools and Families Committee in February suggested that maths might reasonably claim to be the foundation on which skills in all other STEM areas are built. If this is so then this announcement will go a long way toward strengthening the rigour and applicability of maths skills. Finally sounding the ‘M’ which many have felt has been silent for too long in STEM.

Maths for Engineering will equip students planning to study engineering degrees with a practical knowledge of how their knowledge can be applied to modern engineering scenarios. It was developed as a collaborative effort by the Engineering Diploma Development Partnership (EDDP), which includes the Royal Academy of Engineering and six Sector Skills Councils – Cogent, EU Skills, Go Skills, The Institute of the Motor Industry, Semta and SummitSkills.

Having the backing of this array of academic and engineering practitioners will ensure that the qualification has rigour but also answers employer needs. Hopefully it will also give the authority to vocationally focused qualification which, sadly, many are still reluctant to recognise.

Cambridge University has taken the lead in adding weight to Maths for Engineering by insisting that all students applying to study with them after completing the increasingly popular Diploma in Engineering should also have studied Maths for Engineering.

Dr Geoff Parks, Senior Lecturer in Engineering at Cambridge University goes further “The Mathematics for Engineering Level 3 Certificate promises to be better preparation for studying Engineering at university than Maths A-level.

“Its unique selling point is the fact that the mathematical skills and knowledge it imparts are taught and assessed in the context of real-world engineering applications.” This is in contrast to traditional teaching formats which rely on recollection of abstract formulae.

Putting meaning behind what this new qualification might mean for employers in manufacturing Philip Whiteman, Chief Executive of Semta, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies says “Ensuring the next generation of engineers are equipped with the most appropriate skills will be crucial if the UK is to maintain its position as a world leader in manufacturing. This new qualification will go a long way towards filling skills gaps identified by employers.”