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sigma: History

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sigma Centre History and Timeline


Following a successful application to British Petroleum (BP) for funding, the BP Mathematics Centre was set up (complete with green and yellow chairs) to provide drop-in maths support for several hours a week to Engineering students in need of extra help with basic maths. Alison Whitehead was appointed as Centre Manager. Part of the provision was a diagnostic test, which students took in induction week to assess their level of mathematical preparedness.


With the ending of BP funding, the Centre Manager left, but staff from the Mathematics Department kept the Centre running under the leadership of Duncan Lawson. Over the years the demand for maths support grew steadily, and this was matched by a growth in opening hours and reach.


The University recognised the value of maths and stats support and provided funding to employ a Centre Manager. The Centre changed its name to the Mathematics Support Centre. The first appointee, Charmaine Leech, only stayed for a few months but her successor, Jane Reed, worked steadfastly for the Centre over the next three years.


Following Jane’s early retirement, Glynn Smith from the Maths Department took over as the Centre Manager, dividing his time 50-50 with his lectureship in the Maths Department.


Duncan Lawson in Coventry (CU) and Tony Croft in Loughborough(LU) prepared a joint bid to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for a Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL). The strap line of this proposal was “a Centre for Excellence in University-wide Mathematics and Statistics support”.


Duncan Lawson in Coventry (CU) and Tony Croft in Loughborough(LU) prepared a joint bid to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for a Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL). The strap line of this proposal was “a Centre for Excellence in University-wide Mathematics and Statistics support”.


The bid succeeded and the sigma CETL for Mathematics and Statistics Support was born. (The name sigma was chosen for its mathematical connotations and to suggest ‘being greater than the sum of its parts’). The capital funding from the CETL grant was used to upgrade the support facilities at Coventry and Loughborough. The funding allowed many innovations including the establishment of a Statistics Advisory Service.


In recognition of sigma‘s great success, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funded National HE-STEM Programme commissioned sigma to establish a national support network, bringing together those providing Maths and Stats Support across the country into a mutually supportive community and establishing new maths support centres in 5 more HEIs.


sigma‘s 5 years of HEFCE funding ended in July. The CETL’s achievements include:

  • expansion and enhancement of student support at CU and LU
  • the creation of new maths support centres in other UK HEIs through sigma‘s vigorous outreach programme
  • educational research into the pedagogy of maths support
  • explorations in the uses of new technology
  • stronger statistics support.

Coventry University continued to fund the sigma‘s Maths and Stats provision across the University and the new drop-in centre on the ground floor of the Library was opened.


sigma won the prestigious Times Higher Education Award in the category of Outstanding Support for Students. 

The National HE-STEM Programme acknowledged the success of sigma‘s national activities in English universities (HEIs) and provided further funding to enable sigma to work to enhance the maths support in five HEIs with an existing provision and to set up new centres at six HEIs without maths support.


The HEFCE provided 3 further years of generous funding for the sigma National Network. This meant more new Maths Support Centres in English Universities, support for regional Hub activities, workshops, training, awards for excellence, and a contribution of the annual CETL-MSOR conference for practitioners in the field.


With a rapidly increasing footfall, two additional members of staff were employed on permanent contracts as Mathematics and Statistics support lecturers. The centre received over 10,000 student vists for the first time ever and retains its number 1 status for student support in the UK following the National Student Survey.


The HEFCE funding for the sigma National Network ended and a steering group for the network is formed, with Maths Support Centre staff member Dr Mark Hodds as one of the members of the steering group. The aim is for the steering group to suggest ways to continue the excellent mathematics support provision that has been built up across the country and to add to the growing number of universities that offer this provision. Long term sigma director at Coventry University, Trevor Hawkes, retires with Jim Tabor taking over the role as director. Footfall increases yet again with over 11,000 student visits to the centre and over 1,000 student visits from HLS faculty for the first time ever.


Professor Duncan Lawson, winner of the IMA Gold Medal, returned to Coventry University to become co-director of sigma, bringing invaluable knowledge and expertise to the team. Over 15,000 students visit the centre across the academic year.


Extensive building work takes place in the library including the sigma Maths Support Centre. The centre is increased in size by 50% allowing us to accommodate more students in a more spacious environment. Professor Duncan Lawson is also made an MBE for his services to Mathematics Education.


The Covid-19 pandemic forces all learning to become remote. The centre is forced to close but an online service using Big Blue Button is provided to students online. For the first time the full service of support is available to students on Coventry's satellite campuses.


Jim Tabor retires as centre director but continues as an honorary teaching fellow. sigma ,under Dr Mark Hodds as chair of the organising committee, host the prestigious CETL-MSOR conference for the third time but for the first time as a hybrid conference. This allows attendees from around the world to attend the conferenece remotely for the first time, as well as in-person, whilst the pandemic continued.

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