The University of Sheffield has launched the Sheffield Methods Institute (SMI), home of the Sheffield Q-Step Centre

The following article was written by the University of Sheffield's press team to coincide with its launch event on the 18th September 2014.  

Institue launched to improve numeracy skills in Higher Education
  • Only one in five post-16 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland study maths, a significantly lower proportion than comparable OECD countries*

  • Shortage of numeracy skills entering Higher Education, particularly in social sciences

  • University of Sheffield launches new facility to train graduates with quantitative skills









The University of Sheffield launched the SMI on the 18 September 2014, a specialist centre for research methods training, particularly quantitative methods and hosts the Sheffield Q-Step Centre. The SMI has been launched in response to a nationwide shortage of graduates with adequate numerical skills. The Institute is a part of the World-leading Faculty of Social Sciences and will offer two undergraduate degree courses specialising in training quantitative data skills.



Post-16 Mathematics

Data published by the Nuffield Foundation shows only 20% of post-16 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland study maths, compared to at least 50% in most other comparable countries.* This means the basic numeracy levels of students going on to study in Higher Education are falling short, particularly in social sciences where historically an emphasis has been placed on qualitative research methods. The Advisory Committee in Mathematics Education(ACME)** estimates that of all the students entering higher education, 330,000 would benefit from some form of advanced mathematics training but fewer than 125,000 have done so.

Q-Step Programme

The SMI is home to the Sheffield Q-Step centre and will provide two undergraduate courses that have mandatory quantitative training elements, with the aim to deliver numerically skilled and employable graduates who are able to measure, understand and use data.

  • BA/BSc Applied Social Sciences
  • BA Quantitative Social Sciences

Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation said:  “I welcome the launch of the Sheffield Methods Institute, a good example of the kind of institutional commitment needed to deliver a step-change in quantitative skills among undergraduate social scientists. The Q-Step Centre will play a central role in the SMI, contributing to two new degree courses in quantitative and applied social sciences, as well as other activities designed to address the shortage of quantitatively skilled social science graduates.  This should help them think about social science problems in interesting ways, as well as prepare them for a range of interesting jobs afterwards.

The SMI has designed its degree courses to train students in the use of quantitative data sets, with ‘real world’ experience through internships and placements to prepare students for the increasingly competitive jobs market.  Strong numerical skills has been identified as a key factor to improve graduate employability in a study by the Confederation of Business and Industry (CBI), which examined the key issues faced by employers whilst recruiting adequately skilled staff. The CBI reports that the ability to ‘interpret and respond to quantitative data’ as one core numerical skill in the workplace and in their recent Education and skills survey, it stated that two thirds of businesses are concerned about their employees abilities to spot errors in data.










Gwilym Pryce, Director of the Sheffield Methods Institute said: “The launch of the Sheffield Methods Institute is imperative to transform skills set of our graduates. Businesses are struggling to find graduates who are highly numerate and can measure and use quantitative data. Examining data is no longer a role for a rare few, it is vital for the growth of the economy to train well rounded graduates equipped with quantitative skills. It is also crucial for the UK research environment to have a grasp of data analysis, if social science genuinely wants to try and answer the big questions facing society today.”

The SMI will seek to transform the research landscape by promoting quality methods training for students, but also by advising organisations on research techniques and facilitating large scale projects. The Institute aims to simplify the research bid processes to broaden the amount of people bidding for research funding and to encourage more interdisciplinary projects.  

*1. HodgenJ., et al (2013) Towards universal participation in post-16 mathematics: lessons from high-performing countries London: Nuffield Foundation and 2. Hodgen J ., et al (2010) Is the UK and outlier? An international comparison of upper secondary mathematics education, London: Nuffield Foundation.

**Advisor Committee on Mathematics Education (2011) Mathematical Needs in the Workplace and in Higher Education

***Confederation of Business and Industry (2010) Making it All Add Up; Business Priorities for Numeracy and Maths

Also on the web

Visit the SMI launch page for more pictures:

Find out more about the SMI:

And who to contact:

Professor Gwilym Pryce, Director of the SMI

Professor Charles Pattie, Coordinator of the Q-Step Centre