Accreditation of degree programs


Mathematics is the most universal of disciplines. What first year undergraduates learn in their mathematics courses in Britain or America is, by and large, what our first year students here learn. Australian honours students easily slot into graduate programs all around the world.

A consequence of this is that most mathematicians have some shared idea of what a Mathematics Degree 'is'. The mathematics programs across Australia reflect this in the significant degree of uniformity between them.

One might ask therefore, why we should bother with an accreditation program at all. There are two main arguments for this process:

  • Public certification.
  • Defence of standards.

The Australian Higher Education system contains a wide variety of institutions. Although there are, from time to time, some attempts from the Federal Government at quality assurance, this usually consists of checking that the institutions are engaged in some sort of assurance process. Discipline level quality assurance processes are clearly beyond the expertise of the government agencies. In the professional disciplines there is a long tradition of accreditation by the professional societies and it seems likely that where these processes are in place, the government will regard having undergone a review by such a society as fulfilling the appropriate quality assurance requirements. Apart from the professional disciplines, many of our sister organisations in FASTS are involved in these activities. One of the main aims of the Australian Institute of Physics is `setting and supporting professional standards and qualifications in physics' whereas the Australian Institute of Biology gives as one of its activities `the development of strategy and procedures for the professional accreditation of biologists and biological courses.'

In developing a strong accreditation system, the Society aims to have a say in the teaching of mathematics at Australian universities, while providing a procedure for enabling these institutions to satisfy their quality assurance requirements.

A significant impetus for the interest in quality assurance measures has been the great change in the Higher Education system over the past two decades. New entrants to the system, pressure to keep up pass rates and a drift away from interest in mathematics as a major area of study have all put standards under threat. A Society led accreditation procedure is one way of defending our disciplines by applying some pressure in the opposite direction.

Of particular importance here is the training of the next generation of high school teachers. Many students are already being taught mathematics by insufficiently qualified teachers, and there is certainly a great deal of current pressure to redefine what a suitable mathematics background is for the teaching of secondary mathematics. The provision of an accreditation scheme is one way of promoting the Society's view of what should be required in this area.

Ian Doust
School of Mathematics
University of New South Wales



As different institutions use conflicting terminology we list here some of the words used in this document with their interpretation:

(degree) program
a course of study leading to the award of a degree
an individual subject offering being a component of a degree program
the organisational unit(s) of the university responsible for the provision of mathematics teaching
head of department
the person responsible for the management and leadership of the department. In cases where there is more than one organisational unit, it is expected that the university concerned will nominated the head of one of these units as the main contact for the review.

Details of the review process are themselves under review. — 2013/2014

Updated: 28 Nov 2013