Having studied physics at both degree and masters level, and also pharmaceuticals, I was surprised to see the lack of understanding of maths among fellow students and a dependence on rote learning for the more mathematical exam questions that we would face. But time and time again I have seen students of engineering, science, IT and business manage to get through degrees and go on to have meaningful careers despite having only a basic understanding of the subject. I agree with the argument that the problem-solving skills that maths teaches are transferable to other areas and ideally it should be considered a valuable skill.
However, being unemployed myself for some time, I have found that a good understanding of maths does not seem to rate high on the list of skills for recruitment agencies. Although I still study it, the only use that I ever found for it in the past was in teaching others. For postgraduate research, advanced mathematical skills certainly become more important, but there is no shortage of suitable applicants for PhDs while there is a shortage of funding to accommodate them. It seems that this idea of a smart economy never quite took hold. Is this concern about maths just about how it affects our country’s image and the consequences that might have for foreign investment? Or is it based on expectations of a future where it is always viewed as an essential job requirement and postgraduate funding is plentiful? Perhaps it’s more practical to ask if maths skills are an advantage to the job-seeking individual right now. In my experience it hasn’t been.