What’s happening with maths at university?

According to The Australian this morning,

THE Gillard government is under fresh pressure to counter the decline of maths at universities and at schools after scrapping an incentive plan that will see student HECS fees in maths and science almost double.

I don’t know what is happening at schools, but at universities there was a 13% increase in maths enrolments by commencing students between 2008 and 2010. However, this was a lower increase than other science subjects and the overall increase in all non-science subjects.

While there have been shortages of maths teachers at schools, there has never been any real shortage of maths graduates as such. Maths graduates have generally ‘underperformed’ relative to other graduates when seeking work. And in practice they pursue a wide range of careers:


(2006 census, male graduates whose main field of study in their highest degree was classified as ‘mathematical sciences’.)

  1. Just wondering Andrew – where do you get the enrolment data? I looked at DEEWR’s data a while ago and found it horrendously inconsistent across different unis, with several unis not giving the breakdown of science students into maths, physics, chem, bio, etc.

  2. David – DEEWR’s data is consistent between unis, but if you want a breakdown beyond broad field of study (‘natural and physical sciences’ in this case) you need to look for spreadsheets that say they have the ‘narrow’ field of study.

    If you are content with broad field of study, this page can produce time series data:
    http://www.highereducationstatistics.deewr.gov.au/
    Otherwise you need to go through individual years (as I did for this post), here:
    http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Publications/HEStatistics/Publications/Pages/Students.aspx

  3. Thanks for that Andrew. I was playing with the (very) detailed breakdowns in the aggregated datasets on this page:
    http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Publications/HEStatistics/Pages/DataStdtsCollection.aspx

    The most egregious error I saw was UTas classifying all its physics students as being enrolled in a PhD, but there were plenty of other annoying problems that made me give up doing much with it. I might have a look again sometime to see if those spreadsheets are compatible with the inconsistent data from the aggregated datasets.

  4. David – Perhaps I don’t have the right software, but I have never found those datasets to be workable. Presumably the Department mostly just aggregates what the universities have sent them, so errors are quite possible.

  5. I’ve written up some of the problems with the science data here:
    http://pappubahry.livejournal.com/574697.html

  6. Thanks David, a useful analysis.

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