No More Money for British Maths

The EPSRC, or “Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council” is the body in the UK that decides what kinds of research in the physical sciences will get government grant money. Grant money is needed for advanced research in mathematics for the following reasons :

  • This kind of research produces amazing benefits down the track, however
  • The benefits come too slowly for the private sector to be interested in funding research

Some examples of math research that has helped society :

  • Number theory research produced the encryption that keeps your details secure during online shopping, or when chatting on your Blackberry.
  • Advanced methods in Applied Mathematics help with weather and climate change modelling
  • Research into combinatorics has helped find ways to cheaply coordinate the movement of goods around the world, lowering your grocery bill.

Apparently, the EPSRC has decided, since July 2011, that there’ll be no more money for maths research, except for two somewhat specialized fields. What this means for the UK, in chronological order, is

  • Fewer research students in mathematics, and fewer mathematics staff
  • A “brain drain” as talented young British mathematicians go elsewhere, or switch to fields they may be less suited for
  • A decline in the quality of mathematics teaching and research in British universities
  • A lack of mathematically-trained workers available for industry and schools
  • A decline in UK industries that need graduates with strong math skills
  • A decline in the mathematical ability of British schoolchildren
  • A decline, generally, in the UK economy relative to the rest of the world

A number of high-profile British mathematicians have written to the Prime Minister asking that the decision be reversed. You can read the letter here. I would encourage you, if you reside in the United Kingdom, to likewise write to your MP and express your concern.

You might also point out that the “Austerity” programme they have implemented has not produced any positive benefit for the UK economy (there was no good reason to expect it to, so that’s not surprising), and gently suggest they abandon that policy and listen to economists with models that work.