No Cinderella

I was most interested to read Niall Firth’s article ‘It all adds up’ (Focus, 13 February) about the benefits of industrial mathematics.

In all the heat and light which (justifiably) surrounds the quality of our workforce when it comes to pure sciences, and applied disciplines such as engineering, maths is often the cinderella option. It is regarded as the scientific community’s version of philosophy, an interesting pursuit, but one which is ultimately of mainly academic interest.

In that context, the initiative to promote the application of mathematics in an industrial setting is timely. But the question naturally arises, where are the mathematicians of the future who will promote this bold new approach going to come from?

As I understand it we are struggling to get people willing or able to teach maths in schools, and like many scientific disciplines it may seem less attractive to undergraduates than more superficially attractive alternatives such as business studies and design.

This should concern us, because if the thrust of this article is right and industrial mathematics is on the rise we need to be prepared to meet the demand. I do not doubt we have the people to do the job now, but if China and India are making this a priority, be assured that they will soon be training a new highly qualified generation to address it.

Present the industrial and commercial benefits of maths by all means, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the resource we are talking about is a skill just like mechanical engineering or software development.

Without the right people we will miss the boat.

J Prior (BSc Maths)