report launched today by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) has called for more support for biological sciences students who are either extremely able in maths or who may struggle with the subject.

The report, Perspectives from the UK and US on integrating mathematics into the teaching and learning of the biological sciences in higher education, concludes that some students were not prepared for the level of mathematics in their course curriculum. The research found that in the UK the vast majority of bioscience programmes accept GCSE maths and the resulting variability in maths ability makes it extremely challenging to support mathematically able students to advance to their full potential.

Students at all levels of ability could be better supported by more effective use of innovative teaching practices such as problem-based learning, group learning, classroom inversion, contextualisation of maths within biology, and cross-disciplinary student research projects.

Two-thirds of the US academics who responded to the report’s survey said their teaching approaches had changed towards more inquiry-based, active learning approaches, often moving away from the traditional lecture. In the UK a greater degree of interactivity was also desired, but the main method for achieving this was by the use of engagement technology such as ‘clickers’.

The report also noted that the move towards active and collaborative learning could have a positive impact on student retention, with students who were poorly prepared for the mathematics on their course more likely to drop out or switch courses.

Nathan Pike, co-author of the report and HEA Discipline Lead for Biological Sciences, said: “University teachers, researchers, employers, policy makers, and students all share the opinion that mathematical skills, and the ability to apply these skills within the biological sciences, are absolutely key.

“In this report we’ve compared recent UK and US initiatives to improve the teaching and learning of biomathematics and assessed the impact of these initiatives on the student learning experience. There is plenty to be learnt from comparing the differing higher education systems of the UK and the US and I look forward to sharing the recommendations with colleagues across STEM disciplines.”

The full report can be downloaded here.