An open letter from the EWM

EWM wishes to express its deep concern regarding the recent decision taken by the University of Leicester (U.K.) to dismantle the Pure Mathematics research group (of eight permanent members), with the University of Leicester rehiring a teaching-only staff of three people only.

The reason given by the University of Leicester is that they are acting in order to “meet the rising market demand of artificial intelligence, computational modelling, digitalisation and data science”.

We wish to highlight the following critical issues

1) At the university level, either BSc or MSc, high-quality teaching goes hand-in-hand with strong research activity.  Also regular meetings between the teaching staff and small groups of students are essential for an in-depth learning by the students. We fail to understand how such a small staff can act effectively.

2) The College of Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester has both a PhD and a MPhil program in Mathematics. We express our concern for the students already enrolled in these programs who will be guided in their first steps in research by people who are fully occupied by their  teaching duties and who are not doing research themselves.

3) The long standing distinction between pure and applied mathematics does no longer stand. We are all well aware that theoretical novelties can be stimulated by applied research and how some technical innovations are only possible thanks to the use of theoretical results. Advances in applied mathematics rely on permanent interactions with fundamental research, the absence of the fundamental component affecting the long term progress in applications. “Every day the mathematical sciences are used to solve otherwise intractable problems. … Mathematics is increasingly leveraged by those economies intending to compete by enabling digital, biomedical and environmental innovation to generate greater social and economic benefits.” excerpt from the Bond report 2018. Fundamental research in mathematics, let’s call it pure mathematics, is absolutely essential for making progress in this new era of mathematics and data science, prominent examples being the role of mathematical topology in the creation of topological data analysis, the deep geometric questions behind the training of neural networks, and the important implications of random matrix theory on theoretical guarantees of machine learning.

4) A large part of the cuts is being done at the expenses of the female staff. All female researchers in the Department were in the redundancy pool, two thirds of the redundancies are female. No female academic was rehired on the three teaching positions. The School is now left with only one permanent female academic on a teaching only role, compared to six female academics two years ago.

For all these reasons the EWM wishes to call the Athena Swan Committee to withdraw the bronze statue awarded to the Department of Mathematics at the University of Leicester.

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