'Count Us In: Quantitative skills for a new generation' highlights the importance of improving the nation's grasp of figures. In setting out the potential gains to be made from utilising big data, the report references research estimating that 58,000 new jobs a year might be created in the UK, with the advent of “big and open data” predicted to contribute an extra £147 billion per annum to GDP by 2020.
The report is backed up by a review of evidence on the supply and demand of quantitative skills (PDF) by National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which suggests that the UK is lagging behind other countries when it comes to quant skills generally, with middling or poor numeracy found among adults and a lack of quantitative skills in the workforce identified by employers.
To tackle this, the British Academy report proposes better teaching of quantitative skills in schools and at university level, especially in social sciences. It argues that students in countries such as the USA and Germany develop much better quantitative skills than on UK degree programmes because they are at the centre of the curriculum, whereas in the UK, they 'languish in the margins'. The quant skills of teachers and course providers need to be improved to ensure the quality of teaching is high.
The recent development of Core Maths qualifications, for students who do not choose maths as one of their A levels, is described as 'a welcome first step'. However, it adds that school curricula should be a process of structured, long-term project of continuous, strategic review, citing a forthcoming report by the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education and the Royal Statistical Society, which is looking at the reforms to statistical curricula and qualifications. The report also acknowledges the importance of getting adults skilled up and recommends that education providers team up with employers to provide short quantitative courses for employees.
Neil Sheldon, RSS Vice-President for Education and Statistical Literacy said: 'The Royal Statistical Society has been calling for greater statistical literacy for many years, and we fully support the Academy's call for action in today's report. There is a clear need for a concerted, sustained and structural effort to make the step change required for the nation to benefit from the data revolution across all areas of life, study and work.'
The report was authored by a steering group headed up by Dame Jil Matheson and including former RSS presidents John Pullinger and Sir Adrian Smith. It is available to download on the British Academy's website.