A Midlands academic who has worked tirelessly to improve the maths skills of students up and down the country has been recognised with an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Professor Duncan Lawson, spent five years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Formative Education) at Newman University in Birmingham before re-joining Coventry University as Co-Director of sigma in October last year. He was nominated by colleagues at Newman University as part of the Department for Education's commission from the Cabinet Office.

The award recognises Professor Lawson’s services to Mathematics in Higher Education, in particular his work supporting the learning of mathematics by students from all disciplines over the last 25 years.

Professor Lawson said: “I’m thrilled that the hard work of developing new ways to help students improve their mathematics skills has been acknowledged in this way.  Whilst this is a personal award, I hope that it will be seen as honouring all those who work selflessly to support students in their learning of maths and statistics.

“Over the last 25 years, mathematical understanding has become hugely important in an ever-increasing range of disciplines and occupations but many students - particularly in subjects like nursing and the social sciences - enter university lacking confidence in their mathematical skills.

“In collaboration with Professor Tony Croft, I’ve spent more than 20 years working to develop a range of student-centred, non-threatening, flexible support approaches that can help non-mathematicians develop the skills they need.

“The changing nature of work means the need for strong mathematical and statistical skills in the workplace is only going to increase. I’m delighted that mathematics and statistics support is now so widespread at universities across the country and that the sigma Network enables institutions of all sizes to access resources, events and specialist support to develop this support further.”

Peter Childs, Acting Vice-Chancellor at Newman University, said: “Everyone at Newman University is delighted for Professor Lawson. He has committed his career to developing innovative and - most importantly - effective ways to help students from non-mathematical backgrounds develop the skills they need to achieve their full potential. The award of an MBE is fully deserved.

“Tens of thousands of students at universities across this country and internationally have enjoyed a transformed experience of studying the mathematical aspects of their courses, thanks to the innovative and determined work of Professor Lawson in championing, developing and disseminating mathematics and statistics support. 

“In 2016, Duncan’s lifetime work was recognised by the award of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications Gold Medal for outstanding contribution to the improvement of the teaching of mathematics. This was the first time the Medal has been awarded in the field of mathematics education.”

In 2005, Professors Lawson and Croft established sigma, a Centre for Excellence in University-wide mathematics and statistics support.  This has evolved into the sigma Network - an international community of support practitioners that continues to develop resources, share good practice and champion provision for students’ mathematical needs.

In 2011, sigma received the Times Higher Award for outstanding support for students and, recognising sigma’s success as a centre for excellence, the Norwegian government invited Professor Lawson to play a leading role in the development of their own centres for excellence programme.

In 2016, his lifetime work was recognised by the award of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications Gold Medal for outstanding contribution to the improvement of the teaching of mathematics - the first time the medal had been awarded in the field of mathematics education.