Academic Leadership: The Online Journal


Jon Warwick


Within the United Kingdom (UK) higher education sector there has been a considerable amount of debate in recent years about the level of quantitative and literacy skills exhibited by students on entry to university courses. Indeed the UK government commissioned two major reports on the development of skills at school level in the post-14 age range focussing specifically on the development of quantitative skills (Roberts 2002; Smith 2004) since there has been a sustained year-on-year fall in the numbers of students opting to study mathematics, science, and engineering subjects at degree level. Coupled with this reluctance of students to specialise in quantitative subjects is the associated problem that those students who study subjects for which mathematics is an enabling and supporting discipline (computing and information technology for example) are also exhibiting poor levels of ability in what are regarded as very basic mathematical skills. The ramifications of this in, for example, subjects related to healthcare and nursing can be huge since the consequences of mathematical error can be very serious (Glaister 2007). A third factor to add in to this mix is the very diverse nature of the student body now being admitted to universities. As the government has encouraged the expansion of the higher education sector, so institutions have ‘broadened’ their admissions policies so that students with a diverse collection of qualifications perhaps obtained over a number of years are gaining entry to courses that would probably have been denied to them ten years ago. Institutions have also looked to overseas students as another means of income generation and, of course, these students present yet more varied qualifications on entry.