Courses in mathematics and its applications are currently facing considerable pressures to change. Increasing competition for students, for example, means that particular attention must be paid to attracting and retaining students. Indeed, recent evidence from assessment of teaching quality in the UK has highlighted problems with retaining mathematics students (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2000). The extent to which students are adequately prepared for existing programmes of study is a related issue and has been the subject of much debate in the UK (see, for example, Sutherland, 2000). Other pressures for change are also evident, whether stemming from technology, an improved understanding of student learning or new applications of mathematics (see, for example, Haines and Dunthorne, 1996).
An important challenge, then, in the face of such pressures is to design courses that open up mathematics to students in ways that both attract them and serve their needs. In a system of mass higher education, for example, concern will need to be paid to preparing students for employment (Scott, 1995). Thus, while it is essential that courses are built around mathematical considerations, course designers also need to take account of wider considerations. Without such fully informed course design there is every danger that the study of mathematics and its applications will become sidelined in the face of growing competition from other disciplines. And given the way in which mathematics matters to modern societies, as noted inTikly and Wolf (2000), then poor provision in this area can only be a cause for concern.