What students don’t need to start maths science based degrees

Few pre-reqs means undergrads can enrol without studying them at school

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel argues students should start maths-based degrees with the discipline basics studied at school – which universities do not always, or even often, require (CMM July 12 2019).

A new paper from his office, in cooperation with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, sets out how universities require, but mainly don’t, relevant pre-reqs for courses in eight disciplines.

architecture: 13 per cent of courses require any maths

economics/commerce: 83 per cent have no maths prereqs

health/medical science: 78 per cent require no maths, 28 per cent do require science subjects from school Y11 and Y12

engineering: 38 per cent specify no maths for entry

computer science: maths is not required for 73 per cent of computer science courses and where it is, 80 per cent accept intermediate maths

science: 68 per cent of courses do not require school maths and 15 per cent require science. “This,” the authors suggest, “is striking. It stands to reason that a student wishing to study physics, for example, would be better prepared for that course having studied physics in secondary school.”

primary education: 63 per cent of courses do not require Y11/Y12 maths. However, in Queensland, school English, maths and science are required to enter a teaching course at university.

secondary education:  42 per cent of secondary education courses at university require maths. But science is specified for only 7 per cent.

How this happened and why it’s a problem: “Today, many universities instead advise that applicants should have ‘assumed knowledge’ of Year 11 and 12 subjects. Assumed knowledge recommendations differ from prerequisites in that students without the assumed knowledge are not prevented from enrolling. Instead, there has been an increase in the number of ‘bridging courses’ or ‘foundation studies’ offered to prospective students. Such types of remedial courses have mixed levels of success, mainly due to the length of study time and the support given by the university to students,” the authors warn.

A lost cause students need to understand: “While returning to prerequisites may not be compatible with Australia’s current higher education landscape, students still need authoritative advice about which subjects to study in Years 11 and 12 so that they can be as prepared as possible for university study without relying on catch-up or bridging courses.