Published: 15th February, 2021
A strong statement from the London Mathematical Society, the UK learned society for the advancement, dissemination and promotion of mathematical knowledge. The executive board’s plans are ‘seriously flawed’. The statement can also be found here.
The London Mathematical Society has been informed that the University of Leicester is consulting over a proposal to reduce the size of its Pure Mathematics Group to be teaching only, in order to “meet the rising market demand of artificial intelligence, computational modelling, digitalisation and data science”. The Society strongly opposes this proposal and believes it to be seriously flawed for the following reasons.
1. Mathematics is a continuum; what used to be called pure mathematics and applied mathematics are these days so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. One cannot engage in cutting edge applications of mathematics in isolation from people working on foundational problems, and vice versa. Having a research-active group in fundamental mathematics is key to attracting the most promising academics and students in artificial intelligence, computational modelling, etc – areas in which there is an extremely competitive market for both.
2. We consider it to be essential that, in research intensive universities, teaching in fundamental mathematics should involve mathematicians who do research in that area. We believe that this is what students at such universities want. We are not aware of a research intensive university where core teaching in fundamental mathematics is done solely by staff on teaching-only contracts.
3. Fundamental mathematics is central to many of the most active and important areas of science and technology. In most universities it is considered essential, a key part of the STEM ecosystem. It lies at the heart of national strategies in several areas. For example, it is at the core of work being done at the Alan Turing Institute, and at the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research.
4. The importance of fundamental mathematics at the moment is hard to overstate. UKRI recently increased funding to mathematics very substantially, by £300million over five years. The reason for the funding uplift was precisely because fundamental mathematics is considered to be central to the UK’s long-term strategy in science and technology, and because it underpins so many other priority research programmes.
5. The intellectual case for maintaining both research and teaching in fundamental mathematics is compelling. Not only does the subject form the foundation of many areas of science and technology, its applications to the social sciences have also been of the highest significance. It has been considered essential in higher education for over 2000 years and is widely viewed as a pinnacle of human thought. It has never been more prominent in popular intellectual culture, especially among young people. For a university to cut itself off from this tradition would seem to us to be a significant step away from what it means to be a seat of academic learning and scholarship, and so to risk severe reputational damage.
6. We fully appreciate the difficult situation many universities are experiencing. However, there are other routes through the current situation, both intellectually and financially, as other universities are demonstrating.