**Falling Student Enrolment and Mathematics
Diagnostic Testing - Links and Pointers. A UK perspective.**

*Peter Edwards, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK*

The full article, for which this is the Abstract, appears in
Jensen, J.H. et al. (eds), *Justification and Enrolment problems in Education
Involving Mathematics or Physics*, Roskilde University Press, Denmark, pp.
207 - 218.

ISBN 87-7867-070-5

**Abstract**

Many lecturers in UK Higher Education feel that current cohorts of students are "mathematically not as good as they used to be". During 1995, such suspicions were confirmed by several reports, including a Survey, and Handbook, of Mathematics Diagnostic Testing. For many universities, incoming students' mathematical weakness results in a serious qualitative enrolment problem - students' ability is often mismatched with the mathematical requirement of their chosen courses. As a solution, most lecturers would prefer prevention rather than cure. However, individual lecturers or universities are unlikely to be able to prevent the problem since this would involve a major rethink in mathematics education in secondary schools. A cure, on the other hand, can be effected using diagnostic testing.

A well-designed diagnostic test should be able to highlight areas of student mathematical weakness, which, in turn, will indicate required action once a student is already enrolled. However, the very need for such tests already confirms the existence of an underlying problem that, necessarily, will be affecting enrolment. Incoming students' test results reveal that mathematical background is often of a standard that would have precluded enrolment in previous years. Some students are perceptive enough to realise this and will not even consider applying for courses with mathematical content. That being so, how can enrolment targets be met on such courses? Should, for example, diagnostic testing be used as a tool to match course content to student ability or, perhaps more controversially, should syllabuses be redrafted generally to start (and even more controversially, end) at a lower level? What other actions could be taken?

By tracing some recent developments in UK Higher Education, this paper is able to highlight some of the reasons behind the widespread introduction of Mathematics Diagnostic Testing. Further, links between diagnostic testing and enrolment are investigated using results from the above survey and other works, from which it is possible to identify measures that can be taken to ease student transition between secondary and tertiary education and so help to alleviate the enrolment problem.