sigma History

Gestation, birth and coming of age – sigma’s history and time line

1991: 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.


1994: 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.


1998: 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.


2001: 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.


2004: 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”.


2005: 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.


2009: 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.


2010: 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.


2010: 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.


2011: sigma wins the prestigious Times Higher Education Award in the category of Outstanding Support for Students.


2011: The National HE-STEM Programme aknowledges the success of sigma‘s national activities in English universities (HEIs) and provides further funding to enable sigma to work to enhance the maths support in five HEIs with an existing provision and to set new centres at six HEIs without maths support.


2013: The HEFCE provides 3 further years of generous funding for the sigma National Network. This will mean 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.


2015: With a rapidly increasing footfall, two additional members of staff are employed on permanent contracts as Mathematics and Statistics support lecturers. The centre receives 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.

2016: The HEFCE funding for the sigma National Network runs out and a steering group for the network is formed , with 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 director sigma at Coventry University, Trevor Hawkes, reties 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.

Floreat sigma!