John Appleby and William Cox
The transition from one educational stage to another is usually a difficult and uncertain process. Examples include the first day at school, the primary/secondary interface, GCSE to A level (in the UK), school to university and even embarking upon postgraduate research. This article considers the transition to university and how we might better influence students' prior expectations and preparation for this new phase of their life. In addition, we look at the implications for the current curriculum of the common problems of the transition as well as discussing initial assessment of students as they enter higher education (HE).
In mathematics there has been a great deal of recent publicity about the issues around the transition to HE, especially in the UK. Notable among these are the report from the London Mathematical Society (1992) and the more recent publication by the Engineering Council (2000). Other commentators include Cox (1994), Lawson (1997) and Gardiner (1997). Mustoe (1992), Sutherland and Pozzi (1995) and others look at the problem as it affects engineering programmes. Developments that impact on these issues include: changes in school/pre-university curricula, widening access and participation, the wide range of degrees on offer in mathematical subjects, IT in schools and social factors. In the UK, problems arising in the transition are mentioned in many Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Subject Review reports in Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research (MSOR), and also in some engineering Subject Review reports.
Various reports, including those listed above, point to the changes in schools as the source of problems in the transition, and make recommendations as to how things could be put right there. Indeed, in response to wider concerns about