Count Us In: Quantitative skills for a new generation published today

25 Jun 2015

A dramatic improvement in the UK population’s mastery of basic numeracy and statistics needs to happen if the country is to take advantage of the data revolution now sweeping the globe, a major new British Academy report will say today.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland risk falling behind in the race to tap the potential of  “big data”,  while the countries’ middling record in numeracy is creating skills deficits for employers and means many citizens and consumers lack the skills to make informed choices.

These are among the warnings of the report by the British Academy, which calls for a transformation in our approach to building numeracy, statistics and data analysis skills to ensure that, within a generation, the UK rises to the challenge of becoming a fully data-literate nation.

Count Us In: Quantitative skills for a new generation says there is a huge opportunity in the data revolution and argues that the UK population needs the quantitative skills to take advantage of this.
While acknowledging that many initiatives have taken place to improve the UK’s position, it says that much more needs to be done. There needs to be a concerted national effort by governments across the UK to support the report’s vision of a generation of citizens, consumers, students and workers becoming as comfortable with numbers as they are with words.
The report found that employers frequently confirm deficits in people’s number skills. Compared to universities in the USA, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, where these skills are taught at the centre of their curriculum, Count Us In argues that UK universities suffer from a poverty of aspiration in relation to their students’ quantitative skills.

The key recommends to government in the report include:

  • Improve the quality of quantitative skills teaching in schools and colleges. Government, including policymakers must focus on teacher recruitment and retention and the quality of teachers’ skills.

  • Formalise continuous school curricula reviewing across the UK, to ensure that all pupils are equipped to become confident and fluent in numbers and data. 

  • As a priority, address the fact that too many young people in the UK stop studying maths at an early age. This will involve building on qualification initiatives, such as Core Maths, which are designed to raise the numbers of students taking the subject post-16. This must include further education colleges as well as schools.

  • Employers must be encouraged to recognise and capture the potential of improving the quantitative skills of new employees entering employment. Employers should provide short quantitative skills courses for their employees, potentially in partnership with universities.

The report argues that the UK could become a world leader in big data. It has been estimated by the Centre for Economics and Business Research that 58,000 new jobs a year may be created in the UK between 2012 and 2017 in the big data marketplace, with the UK economy benefiting by £74 billion over those 5 years, through companies making better use of data. The direct value of public sector data alone to the economy has been estimated at £1.8 billion per annum.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA, Lead Fellow and Chair of the British Academy’s High Level Strategy Group for Quantitative Skills, said: “Our ability to handle data and reason using numbers will not be transformed overnight. But we need to put in place the structures that will begin to effect that change. Whichever way we look at it – the sheer potential for our economy and society on the one hand, and the risks of not acting on the other – this is an agenda that demands the interests of decision makers at the highest level.”

Former National Statistician and Chair of the British Academy project, Dame Jil Matheson, said: “For our ambition to be fully realised within a generation, we must not underestimate the cultural change that is required – starting now – primarily, but not entirely, with the UK’s education systems.”

The full report can be read here: 

Further details about the launch of the report at the House of Lords can be found here:

For further information and updates follow @britac_news #BACountUsIn.

Notes to editors
1. For more information please contact the British Academy press office: [email protected] / 02079695227

2. The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire, recognise and support excellence and high achievement in the humanities and social sciences, throughout the UK and internationally, and to champion their role and value. For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news

Contact the press office

For further information contact the Press Office on [email protected]  / 07500 010 432.

Sign up to our email newsletters