National Forum on assumed knowledge in maths: Its broad impact on tertiary STEM programs

Participants at the National Forum

On the 13th and 14th February 2014, 145 academics from institutions across the country, education specialists and policy makers met at the University of Sydney to consider the impact of assumed knowledge requirements for maths, on tertiary STEM programs.  The forum was jointly organised by the FYiMaths project and the Institute of Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (IISME). The Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS), the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) and the Australian Mathematics Society (AustMS) supported the forum by providing generous sponsorship and valuable guidance.

There is increasing awareness that many students entering STEM degree programs do not possess the assumed knowledge in mathematics required for success.  This is not only evident to academics teaching mathematics in first year, but across other disciplines in the sciences and engineering, where students struggle to apply mathematical skills in the context of their discipline.  Universities are developing a range of responses to the deficit in mathematical skills and knowledge, but the challenges of designing and delivering the STEM curriculum to underprepared students remain.

When: 13–14 February 2014
Where: The University of Sydney

Program available here


Opening keynote by Chief Scientist

Opening keynote by Chief Scientist

Report and Communique

This report provides an outline of the presentations and discussions held at the forum, and contains recommendations developed in response to comments and feedback from forum participants.

Your comments on the report are welcomed and will assist our project in developing resources and events.

The national forum communique was sent to the Minister for Education and Universities Australia on 25th August, and released with a Media Release on 27th August 2014.

We also published a short piece in the HERDSA News (p.23).



Deb King, Project Leader of FYiMaths, outlines the aims for the forum.


The forum was opened by Professor Ian Chubb, who called the falling level of mathematics education an issue of ‘national importance’ and urged action. The forum heard presentations from academics on the range of subjects, academic support programs and teaching practices developed by institutions in response. The forum coincided with the release of the Mathematics Association of NSW report on their 2013 teacher survey and the University of Sydney’s appointment of Adam Spencer as an ambassador for maths and science.   The forum was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14th February.


Terry Speed and Adam Spencer

Terry Speed and Adam Spencer



Jackie Nicholas (University of Sydney)
HSC mathematics preparation: entry, pathways and performance in first year STEM subjects

A/Prof. Katherine Seaton (La Trobe University)
Curriculum re-design to provide opportunities for a diversity of students

Dr. Danica Solina (UTS:Insearch)
Physics and low mathematics: Approaches for first year engineering and science students

Dr. Irene Penesis (University of Tasmania)
Engineering Mathematics for VET Articulants Transitioning to University Study

Jo-ann Larkins (Federation University)
A collaborative multi-disciplinary approach to strengthening students’ essential maths skills for science

A/Prof. Carmel Coady and Dr. Ragbir Bhathal (University of Western Sydney)
Maths for engineers

Dr. Gwen Lawrie (University of Queensland)
Who put the maths in chemistry?

Dr. Glennys O’Brien, (University of Wollongong)
Can I calculate in chemistry?

A/Prof. Kim Beswick (President, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers)
What can we do as tertiary educators to influence student choices at high school, concerning maths subjects?

Michael Jennings (University of Queensland)
Not Just Another Diagnostic Test
PPS and link to the GetSet test

Janelle Wilkes (University of New England)
Application of GetSet for Success at UNE



IJISME Special Edition

The FYiMaths project coordinated a special issue of the International Journal for Innovation in Science and Mathematics Education (IJISME) published in February 2015, Volume 23 (1). This issue contains extended articles based on presentations at the forum.

The editorial team were: Dr Deborah King, A/Professor Leon Poladian, Professor Cristina Varsavsky and Ms Joann Cattlin.