Our response to DSIT’s Call for Evidence, Feb 2024

7 February 2024

We’re delighted to share with you AcadMathSci’s response to DSIT’s Call for Evidence to shape a new National Academy focussed on the mathematical sciences.

The text below forms the response by the Academy for the Mathematical Sciences to DSIT’s Call for Evidence on Objectives and Priorities for a new National Academy for the Mathematical Sciences published on 12th January 2024.

We welcome the announcement that the government will support the creation of a National Academy focussed on the mathematical sciences. Mathematics and statistics are vital to the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing our country – including climate change, pandemic preparedness, the development of safe and effective AI, and national security. Furthermore, the mathematical sciences underpin more than £300 billion of UK economic activity, and support nearly 3 million jobs across a wide range of industries [figures by Deloitte for 2010, £ in 2023 prices]. It is therefore very welcome to see the importance of mathematics and the mathematical sciences recognised at the highest level. Given the importance of the mathematical sciences to national priorities and the UK economy, there should certainly be a National Academy for the mathematical sciences. It is also encouraging to see mathematical sciences research and its importance highlighted, alongside the importance of the mathematical sciences in education, industry, and policy – and for all of these contributions to be supported through a National Academy in such a potentially transformative way.

To succeed, the new National Academy will need credibility and support across the entire mathematical sciences community. In particular, the National Academy will need the full support and buy-in from the five existing Learned Societies in the mathematical sciences – the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, the London Mathematical Society, the Operational Research Society, and the Royal Statistical Society. It will also need close links to organisations working in maths education, including the Joint Mathematical Council and the Royal Society ACME committee, and strong links to mathematical scientists working in industry and government. 

A National Academy with strong and credible links across the full mathematical sciences community will be able to act as a vital delivery mechanism for action against critical national challenges. For example, increasing numeracy and data literacy is a key opportunity for long-term productivity growth – and a major challenge across all four nations of the UK. But progress here will require co-ordinated action across the full mathematical sciences pipeline: linking schools, mathematics education research, teacher training and CPD, curriculum design, and access to expertise in academia and industry. A National Academy would be uniquely placed to drive effective change here, but only if it has the credibility and reach to convene and co-ordinate across the entire mathematical sciences community.

Question 1.
Are [the preliminary objectives set out by DSIT in the Call for Evidence] the correct objectives for a National Academy focused on the mathematical sciences to pursue? Are there any other objectives that the new organisation should pursue?

The Academy for the Mathematical Sciences consulted extensively with the mathematical sciences community in spring and summer 2023, to gauge the strength of community support for an Academy and to determine what the priorities and objectives for an Academy should be. It is encouraging, therefore, that the preliminary objectives proposed by DSIT align closely with the vision and objectives that we developed on the basis of our consultation. This suggests that a National Academy with the proposed objectives would attract broad community support, and that no major objectives have been omitted.

That said, we believe that the preliminary objectives outlined by DSIT do not place enough emphasis on support for maths education. This is important, because it is a key long-term enabler for several of the more ambitious objectives.

The Call gives one of the preliminary objectives for a new National Academy as: “to provide independent and credible leadership to this community, in particular by helping the sector to speak with one voice”. We strongly support this objective: it should be a key goal for the new National Academy. It is therefore essential that the new National Academy starts with (and continues to build) strong and effective links across the entire mathematical sciences community. The National Academy will need such links to speak credibly for the community and to facilitate consensus-building across the entire community.

We welcome and support the call for the National Academy to represent all four nations of the UK. 

Question 2.
HMG is prepared at this stage to provide funding to support the initial establishment of a new organisation, but we are conscious that the future possibilities here are broad. Given this, what activities should the organisation specifically focus on in the first 1-2 years of its work, and what should it explore developing for the longer term?

We believe that the National Academy should focus initially on delivering in a small number of high-priority areas, thereby cementing its role as a credible and respected leader of the mathematical sciences community. Delivery should focus on areas where the Academy adds distinctive value, and where there is clear complementarity with existing activities in the community. These include:

  • establishing a strong policy function – this is a critical gap in existing provision, and is an area where other National Academies have had a great deal of impact;
  • developing an expertise brokerage function, so that the Academy can act as a single point of contact to bring responsive and timely expert advice from the mathematical sciences community to policymakers, industry, and the third sector;
  • building capacity in knowledge exchange, via the KE Hub, to offer modelling support and tailored research to UK companies of all sizes;
  • designing and implementing pilot projects to address regional, socio-economic, ethnic, and gender imbalances in the mathematical sciences workforce; and
  • building up a Fellowship of the Academy, to provide a broad grouping of outstanding people from across the full mathematical sciences community that the Government and wider society can connect to.

A key medium-term goal would be to convene and support, in collaboration with the Royal Society ACME Committee and the Joint Mathematics Council on maths education, an expert task force to build on the first phase of the Royal Society Maths Futures project. This task force would identify the mathematics that the next generation of students will need, and the implications of this for assessment, resources, and teacher education/CPD.

In the longer term, as the Academy builds up capacity and credibility for successful delivery, key priorities should include:

  • designing and implementing initiatives to broaden the talent pool in the UK mathematical sciences, building on the results of pilot activities during the first phase;
  • targeted action to increase the effectiveness of the talent pool, supporting and enabling the success of exceptional mathematical scientists across the entire community;
  • supporting the development of new pathways that support high achievers going on to STEM careers and provide the mathematics people will need to thrive in the future society and economy;
  • addressing the significant regional disparities in mathematics funding at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The fundamental goals, which enable many other priorities for both the Academy and wider society, should be to increase the supply of highly skilled mathematical scientists, and new research in the mathematical sciences. These are of critical importance to national prosperity and national security. A National Academy, with appropriate resourcing and community support, will enable joined-up action across all stages of the people pipeline to support and develop these vital resources.

Question 3.
There are a wide range of individual and organisational stakeholders already doing valuable work in the area, ranging from academics, to learned societies to the existing National Academies. How should the new organisation work to complement these existing entities and draw together their work?

It is essential that the National Academy is led and guided by a group of people who, collectively, are trusted and respected across the full mathematical sciences community, and who can credibly represent all parts of the community. But this is not enough. For the Academy to be effective, it will need the full support and collaboration of many existing stakeholders. This will require sustained engagement by Academy leadership, alongside governance structures that ensure that other organisations in the space are consulted and have input into Academy decision-making.

This is particularly important with respect to the existing Learned Societies in the mathematical sciences, and the major organisations involved in maths education. Each of these societies and organisations has deep reach into part of the mathematical sciences community, and a long history of representing those parts of the community. The legitimacy and effectiveness of a National Academy will depend on the Academy being able to draw on and amplify that representation: this will require appropriate governance structures, as well as establishing ways of working based on collaboration, transparency, and trust.

For example, the National Academy should convene and support a forum where the learned societies and other key stakeholders including HoDoMS (which represents university Heads of Departments in the mathematical sciences), organisations in maths education, and UKRI can discuss, consult, and provide input into Academy decisions. Relations with stakeholders, including the other National Academies, should be guided by an explicit requirement (e.g., in its mission statement) for the Academy to complement and not compete with other organisations, and be supported by appropriate governance structures.

Question 4.
The UK is home to many of the world’s best scientific institutions, some dating back centuries and some much more recent, what lessons can the new institution learn from the experience of these organisations?

Key lessons include:

  • The importance of close collaboration with other stakeholders.
  • That assured long-term funding, including for core activities, is critical to allow a new National Academy to be as effective as possible during its early years.
  • That a new National Academy can bring significant positive change: by providing credible, independent, expert advice to government and the devolved administrations;  allowing a scientific community to speak with one voice; shaping both the development of a scientific field and the public perception of that field; and enabling the delivery of transformative programmes with major societal impact.

We look forward, later in the process, to arguing that the Academy for the Mathematical Sciences – as a community-established and community-led project and charity with strong support across the full breadth of the mathematical sciences – is uniquely well-placed to achieve the goals that DSIT and the community have set out, and should be chosen as the new National Academy for the mathematical sciences.