Department of Mathematics


Laying the Foundations of excellence for three decades

2019 MPS Foundation Year induction programme

This autumn sees the thirtieth anniversary of our first intake of Foundation Year students. A tremendously important initiative for widening access to Higher Education to students of all backgrounds, Foundation Year programmes are now common throughout the country, having even been adopted recently at Oxbridge. 

Retired faculty member Colin Finn says: “I am not sure whether we were the first university to offer a Foundation Year. All I can say is that our ideas were original, and we saw the desperate need for such a course. The real driving force to setting up our Foundation Year was Jay Jayawant, who was then Dean of Engineering.

“He was very keen to set up such a course for Engineers, and he proposed that Physics should be involved with parallel Engineering and Physics Foundation Years. He was very adamant who he wanted to be involved from our side: Peter Dawber, David Betts and myself. He was also emphatic that the maths element should be taught by a physicist and of course this turned out to be Peter, helped by David and myself in the workshops.”

Over the years, Foundation Year students have risen to great heights: we have found that they will often provide a well-prepared “core” to an incoming cohort of first-year students, being exemplars of good study habits and a solid work ethic.

“A memorable example”, recalls Professor Philip Harris, Head of MPS, "is of a former garage mechanic, who told me that when he first came he could barely expand brackets. His attitude was that at the garage he would work 9 hours per day, 5 days per week; he would apply the same principle to his studies. He ended up with one of the top first-class degrees of his year, and went on to Oxford to start his PhD.”

There are numerous other outstanding examples: and, indeed, Dr Seb Weidt, a recently appointed faculty member in Physics and Astronomy, also began his career in physics in our Foundation Year. He says: "The foundation year is a fantastic way of providing access to higher education for students with a broad range of backgrounds from which I greatly benefitted.

“It was not only a very enjoyable experience but also provided me with a strong foundation which enabled me to achieve my full academic potential going forward, and I am delighted to see the Foundation Year continuing to be such a great success.” Dr Weidt now teaches Quantum Mechanics to undergraduates, and plays a leading role in a group that is working towards building a large-scale quantum computer.

The many faculty who have been involved with our Foundation Year programme over the years seem invariably to feel a sense of privilege in their participation. They relish the opportunity to build excellent relationships with the students, and take enormous delight in the quality of degrees that so many of them ultimately achieve.

Philip Harris, who enjoyed teaching the Foundation Year Physics Laboratory for 14 years, says: “Our Foundation Year programme truly reflects the Sussex values of kindness, inclusion and collaboration. For thirty years now we have been laying the foundations of excellence in these students who otherwise probably would not have had a chance to enjoy the benefits of a top-quality education. We are so proud of their achievements, and we look forward to the continued success of the programme for many years to come.”

Professor Jonathan Bacon, Head of Engineering and Informatics, adds: “As Philip Harris says for Physics students, some of the strongest Engineering and Informatics graduates have come through our Foundation years. They provide excellent foundations, particularly in Mathematics and Programming, allow mature students to gain confidence and become comfortable with University life and studying, and provide a second chance to people whose A levels went wrong for some reason. Two of our recent Foundation students went on to win the highly prestigious MacQuitty Prize, awarded annually to the best STEM final-year student at the University; it went to Daniel Riszczuk in 2014 (MEng Mechanical Engineering) and John Wilkie in 2017 (BSc Computer Science ).”

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By: Justine Charles
Last updated: Tuesday, 1 October 2019

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