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School mathematics and university outcomes

By Muir Houston and Russell Rimmer


There is concern that, as participation of non-traditional entrants widens, many university students do not have the mathematical preparation required to learn skills vital for professional work. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between mathematical attainment at secondary school and the outcomes of university study in quantitative disciplines.\ud \ud An ‘engagement’ theory of higher-education study is used to investigate academic performance and progression among students who gained entry on the basis of Scottish Higher examinations to a university that has embraced widening participation. Within this environment there is considerable diversity. For example, although most students were 18 on entry, students were aged from 16 to 38. While pre-entry preparation in mathematics was not extensive, this varied. At the university, assistance with mathematical skills is embedded in programmes and is discipline specific.\ud \ud Students with better pre-entry attainments in mathematics had better average marks, maintained greater study loads and were more likely to progress. However, non-traditional university students with poorer mathematical backgrounds were able to attain comparable outcomes

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