Friday, 4 February 2011

IRM, Town Hall Meeting, 28 January 2011

A draft of the International Review of Mathematics was made available last week, though I can't link to it until the final version is published. It contains many sound observations and suggestions, particularly
  • the state of mathematics in the UK is good, with excellence distributed over the whole country;
  • there is a danger that the increased concentration of funding to larger instiutions could damage excellence outside these centres;
  • communication between EPSRC and the grassroots mathematics community is poor; and
  • the representation of women in mathematics is lamentable, and needs to be addressed far more vigorously.
At the EPSRC Town Hall meeting at the Senate House in London on 28th January (shown in this wonderful drawing by Raymond Myerscough Walker), the chair of the international panel, Margaret Wright, presented the findings and answered questions. I was worried that having talked of the unity of mathematics, they then divided it by addressing Mathematical Science, Applications and Industrial Maths as though they were separate, and Margaret agreed to dispell that impression, particularly in the evidential trail. The lack of detailed assessments of landscape documents in some areas was also addressed; apparently this is due to lack of expertise within the panel, and at the very least this should be stated explicitly.

The mood turned a little less positive when David Delpy (Chief Exec of EPSRC) responded. He seemed to suggest that EPSRC was unlikely to pay any attention to the regional distribution of excellence and will continue to encourage centralization (since this is stated policy it is not a surprise, but his insistence that this was for academic reasons was a bit galling and I made a rather clumsy and irritated intervention and had to be helped out by Malcolm MacCallum of the Heilbronn Institute). He also made very dismissive comments about the mathematics learned societies -- emphasizing that they are plural!

Oh well, some of these things (representation of women for example) should be taken up by the community anyway, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for action on the support of excellence across the discipline and wherever it may be.

The implications for funding are still confused.