Christian Wakeford is MP for Bury South
All students who will receive their A-Level results tomorrow deserve great credit. It has been another complicated and difficult year for the students.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is that math will become the most popular subject choice, just as it has been for the past few years. According to provisional figures from Ofqual, more than 90,000 students will receive A-level results in math this week. (It’s a long way back to second place on the subject list: 68,000 sat psychology while biology takes bronze with 63,000 candidates.)
This is good news for math. But it brings with it certain problems. With so many school students sitting in math, we need to make sure the pipeline in higher and later education is big enough to accommodate them. There are worrying signs of problems in that pipeline.
Earlier this year, the University of Leicester made the decision to close the pure mathematics cluster in its mathematics department. That motivated the founding, by the London Mathematical Society and others, of the Protect Pure Maths campaign. Its dual objective is to promote mathematics in general and to protect pure mathematics in particular, because that area of the subject seems to be most threatened at the moment.
Dr. Nira Chamberlain, president of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), openly supports the campaign. He recently said: “To those who think we can have a better society by reducing pure math activity, I say this: ‘All math is important, you can’t target one without hurting the other!’ When the math is strong, the UK economy gets stronger. “
That goes to the heart of the problem. Mathematical science contributes over £ 200bn to the UK economy, that’s around 10% of GDP. We need math and math while we rebuild the economy.
But sometimes it can be difficult to see what pure mathematics contributes in particular. By its very nature, pure mathematics is concerned with pursuing mathematical ideas for their own sake.
And yet without him, our lives today would be very different. For example, the encryption that protects the contents of your mobile phone and that facilitated all those contactless transactions during the pandemic is based on principles of pure mathematics.
We don’t just carry pure math in our pockets. It is pure mathematics that underpins the safe and successful operation of GPS satellites in the spatial mapping of the world. Pure math keeps us safe.
Alan Turing was studying a complicated mathematical logic problem in the 1930s. It seemed to have limited application in the real world. However, when it came to cracking the Enigma code, pure math work proved vital. And, of course, Turing’s work would eventually create modern computers.
Today, the government security and surveillance center GCHQ is one of the largest employers of pure mathematicians in the country. The Heilbronn Institute, a partnership between GCHQ and universities, issued a statement on “the value of pure mathematics in security” that boiled down to this line: “Pure mathematics is crucial in the design and analysis of security protocols modern “.
Pure mathematics helps us stay well. For example, by making MRI scanners more efficient, he has surely saved the lives of many patients. Mathematics in all its forms has been crucial to our response to Covid-19. From the charts we get used to seeing at Downing Street briefings to modeling the spread of the disease and, happily, the development and deployment of vaccines, a process in which this country and this government have led the world.
We can also lead the world in math by recognizing the value of math in all its forms and by ensuring that math departments remain not only viable but healthy.
Students earning A-Level grades today shouldn’t have to travel far from home if they don’t want to. There is a danger that if some institutions make reckless cuts, pure mathematics will become the exclusive domain of certain universities, while others will specialize in applied mathematics. Better to have math departments where all aspects of the subject can interact, infuse and excite each other spread across the country.
This government knows the value of mathematics. We have announced £ 300 million in additional funding for the issue. Details on that commitment should be released in the fall. I hope that it will be used to fund all branches of mathematics and that it will be provided in a sustainable way, to pay students to complete the courses for several years. That is the way to maintain our mathematical line of excellence.
In doing so, we give today’s students who celebrate their success in A-Level math the best opportunity to develop their knowledge and love of the subject. And we give the nation the best chance to reap the rewards of that excellence in terms of economics, opportunity, and finding the answers to questions we’ve even thought to ask yet, and being prepared to face currently unknown challenges.