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JBM fails maths test


Heads of departments of civil engineering have this week received a letter from the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) indicating that mathematics A level will not be regarded as a prerequisite for admission to an accredited degree programme in civil engineering.

Although presented as an interim measure for the 2002 and 2003 intakes linked with well publicised national problems in school mathematics, it gives the impression of being a quick fix to a difficult problem. And if A level mathematics is not needed in 2002 or 2003 it is unclear why it should be ever again.

The JBM letter makes it clear that departments taking undergraduates without A level mathematics will need to demonstrate that the curriculum and teaching have been changed to ensure students achieve the learning outcomes of the course.

However, the detail of the required content is left open.

The JBM letter comes shortly after publication in Civil Engineering (February 2002) of the article by Duncan Michael condemning the aridity of mathematics in civil engineering and noting that 'electronic computation has hugely changed our mathematical landscape'.

But while we no longer need to grind through long calculations, we cannot interpret the output without mathematical understanding.

So far as I am aware no other accrediting institutions have relaxed standards. This appears to give an unfortunate message about the intellectual challenge of civil engineering both to schoolchildren and to the rest of the world.

David Muir Wood, University of Bristol, department of civil engineering, Queen's Building, University Walk, Bristol BS8 1TR

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