Minister’s Blog

10 August 2019

In yesterday’s Herald, Professor Ken Brown of the University of Glasgow, was raising concerns about the future of research in mathematics in Scotland. He made two significant points.

Firstly, there has been a fall in the number of PhD students in mathematics. Although Scotland is still producing ground-breaking research and there is no shortage of students keen to do it, there is little funding allocated to this area of academic life.

Secondly, the  criteria for funding is not conducive to mathematics. It is the Professor’s view that governments are under pressure ‘to support research that shows an economic benefit in the very short term’. And this doesn’t work well for mathematics.

The mathematics which Einstein required to reveal his theory of relativity was actually discovered in the mid-nineteenth century but its usefulness was not discovered until the second decade of the twentieth!

Ideas need time to germinate. Creativity cannot be forced. Relationships develop over years. Confidence needs to grow. Usefulness cannot always be measured in the short-term. It’s only with age and experience that we value the work of parents, teachers, colleagues and friends.

‘Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die …’ The gospel is built upon the usefulness of self-forgetfulness and even death. Are these implausible outcomes likely to inspire governments to invest large-scale funding? What use the Church?