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First-year and final-year undergraduate students’ perceptions of university mathematics departments


In many countries, concerns have been raised regarding the lack of participation of students in mathematics at the university level due to a dearth of skilled professionals to meet the needs of an increasingly technological, and thus mathematical, world. In this article, we report findings from a study in which we compared the experiences of first-year and final-year undergraduate students studying in the mathematics departments at two Australian universities. We focus on the participants’ conceptions of the supports and challenges that they experienced in the mathematics departments, using a multimodal data collection method, photovoice. We found key differences between first-year and final-year participants’ perceptions of the learning environment when considering gender-related differences, such as an increasingly lower participation of women in mathematics and differential treatment by gender. Participants reported feeling supported by peers, at both year levels, and faculty members, particularly in first year. Participants from both year levels valued the collaborative learning environment of the classes and technological learning supports (e.g. lecture recordings) but raised concerns about the format and weighting of assessments. Although there were some year level differences, there were also commonalities to the participants’ experiences, which indicates that some issues may be systemic. The knowledge that is gained from this research is crucial in understanding students’ lived experiences and thus making suggestions to address university mathematics pipeline issues.

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  1. Although we conceptualize gender as a socially constructed spectrum, the studies that we report regarding gender issues in university-level mathematics all focused on women and men, rather than considering non-binary students. It is unclear how the gendered nature of mathematics impacts non-binary students, but, as another minority gender group in university mathematics, non-binary students may have some similar experiences to women students.


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Correspondence to Jennifer Hall.

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Hall, J., Robinson, T., Flegg, J. et al. First-year and final-year undergraduate students’ perceptions of university mathematics departments. Math Ed Res J 34, 189–214 (2022).

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  • University-level mathematics
  • Pipeline issues
  • Gender issues
  • Student experience