Mathematics underpins many university subjects to a significant extent, and quantiative methods are becoming increasingly essential in all disciplines. For many students, difficulties with mathematics and statistics can be a barrier to successful study in higher education. One of the key roles of mathematics and statistics support is to enable all students to achieve their full potential in their chosen discipline by helping them to develop confidence, knowledge, skills and understanding in relation to mathematics and statistics.
The development of the sigma Network
In the 1990s, both Loughborough University and Coventry University became acknowledged leaders in the field of university-wide mathematics support. They developed impressive track records, both individually and collaboratively, of providing exceptional mathematics support services. They established UK-wide and international dissemination activity to benefit those providing maths support in other HEIs. They provided leadership, and played key roles in relevant national projects. Their expertise and success would become recognised by the 2011 THE Award for Outstanding Student Support.
In 2005 a collaborative bid by Loughborough and Coventry to HEFCE as part of their Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning programme was successful, and in 2005 sigma was established as a collaborative Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in the provision of mathematics and statistics support. The sigma CETL project ended on 31 July 2010. See Celebrating Success for an overview of the sigma CETL project.
From 2010 until 2012, sigma was funded by the national HE Stem Programme to continue to work with the mathematics and statistics support community. It established a network of regional hubs, provided funding and other assistance to establish new maths support centres and enhance existing support provision, and supported specfic projects. More than the sum of its parts reports on progress in 2010/11 and And the winner is celebrates the growth and successes of maths support over this period.
From 2012 onwards, the work and spirit of sigma was upheld by the sigma Network, managed by a voluntary group of members from each of the regional hubs. A re-branded website, and a new JISCMail mailing list (SIGMA-NETWORK), enabled the sigma Network to champion the cause of cross-university mathematics and statistics support, and provide developmental activities and expert mentoring for those who work in this area.
Between 2013-16, sigma received £800,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to help fund new mathematics support centres and related activities, encourage and support existing centres and practitioners, run workshops and conferences focusing on effective teaching and learning support and create new resources for practitioners and students needing mathematics support in England. sigma took on the organisation of the annual CETL-MSOR Conference. The sigma Network of regional hubs extended its reach and range of activity substantially, and a quarterly Newsletter disseminated information around the growing mathematics and statistics community.
The sigma Network today
The period of HEFCE funding came to an end on 31 July 2016. A key part of the funded project was to develop a sustainability strategy that would ensure the future growth of the community of practice that has developed around mathematics and statistics support in HE, and protect the reputational capital built up by sigma over the years. On the basis of legal and professional advice, the sigma Network has been established as a professional association managed by an elected Steering Group, bound by a Constitution and answerable to an Annual General Meeting. The inaugural AGM to ratify these arrangements took place on 6th September 2016. AGM minutes available here.
The sigma Network is managed by an elected Steering Group, who are all involved in maths and statistics support and who have the support of their institutions to carry out this task on behalf of the sector . The Steering Group also includes co-opted representatives from professional associations and international maths support networks.