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Mathematics in Developing Countries

Mathematics underpins research in all areas of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and it is therefore essential for any country wishing to improve STI education and research to have an active community of researchers in mathematics.

Notwithstanding increased access to publications through the Internet, and a larger number of international events through increased funding and financial support for research, it is still proving extremely difficult for mathematicians in most developing countries to break out of their isolation and conduct high-level research at an international level.

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The International Mathematics Master (IMM) is a relatively new approach to capacity building in mathematics in developing countries. The vision and strategy behind the concept of the IMM are the fruit of decades of experience of the faculty and staff of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and are inspired by, and complement, several existing programs run by the ICTP and other organizations.

A first implementation of the IMM was launched in 2019 in Pakistan, following a collaboration agreement between the ICTP and COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI) within the framework of the ICTP Affiliated Centre program. Given the success of IMM Pakistan, the intention is to consolidate the program in Pakistan and open similar programs in other countries.

The Department of Mathematics at SSBASSE which is also an Emerging Regional Centre of Excellence, supported by the European Mathematical Society, has also been now declared as an ICTP Affiliated Centre by the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). The IMM Pakistan has collaborated with LUMS university and it is now housed at Syed Babar Ali School of Science and Engineering, LUMS.

The International Mathematics Masters, as it is called, promises to offer rigorous training in fundamental and applied mathematics, preparing its students for a rapid-paced, highly complex world that awaits them. Importantly, this means that our existing master's in mathematics will now be co-taught by international Faculty who will visit LUMS every year. Furthermore, each cohort will comprise of local and international students. The initiative will be co-funded by the ICTP and marks a new beginning in offering mathematical learning of the highest order in the country.

IMM-LUMS program is a joint effort of the School and the department for a paradigm qualitative shift; elaborating our role in promoting mathematics in the region as the Emerging Regional Centre of Excellence of Mathematics. We agree and committed to the following Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.

- Pythagoras -

IMM Vision

The vision behind the International Mathematics Master (IMM) is to have

A 2-year Master of Mathematics hosted by an existing higher education institution in a developing country, taught by prestigious international faculty, and comprising a scientific program based on fundamental and core mathematical topics.

The program aims at attracting the very best local and international students and exposing them to the highest quality teaching in preparation for entering competitive PhD programs. Despite its simplicity, the vision and strategy of the International Mathematics Master are proving to be quite unique and fill a gap in the existing landscape of activities supporting mathematical training and research in developing countries.

The benefits of the IMM approach are many, and include the following;

  • The opportunity for students to learn from faculty who teach and research at an international level, through courses which are accessible and coordinated in order to provide a systematic learning experience leading to a solid mathematical foundation for further study.
  • It is extremely cost-effective, as it relies on the existing institution’s administrative and logistic infrastructure. The only “live” costs are the travel and local expenses of the international faculty and the fellowships for the students.
  • The international faculty can interact with local faculty, giving research talks, and offering mentoring and support, including to faculty from nearby institutions. They can also give public lectures and generally be a resource for the mathematical community of the country as a whole.

Short/Medium Term Challenge: An International-Level Program

The short/medium term goal of the International Mathematics Master program is that it should become as good as any Mathematics Master program anywhere.

The involvement of international faculty coming from many different universities is a strength of the programme (albeit giving rise to some non-trivial logistic issues which we discuss below) and provide a faculty body which any but the very top institutions might find hard to compete with. The programme should attract the very best students from the host country and the region, as well as international students. The measure of its success will be to provide IMM graduates with the foundations and skills to be admitted and successfully pursue PhD studies in excellent programmes in Europe or the US or other top level institutions worldwide. A second measure of success will be to reach the point where a good student with a good Bachelor’s degree from a good European or US University would consider, and perhaps choose to follow, an IMM programme in a developing country, knowing that they are choosing an exciting personal experience without compromising their mathematical training!

Medium/Long Term Challenge: Capacity Building

The medium/longer term challenge is of course for the alumni of the programme to remain involved as tutors and faculty and for some to return to the host country and contribute to the building of research groups. It is expected that at least some of the students would have done their PhDs with some of the visiting faculty, or in any case in research areas close to those of the faculty, who would therefore be able to follow them and mentor them through a transitional period following their return. The even longer term challenge is of course to have a critical mass of researchers in the host country who maintain research ties with their advisors and other international researchers, and are doing research at an international level. In fact, the actual Master’s program is just one of the two main pillars on which the IMM overall capacity building strategy is based. The second is the IMM Alumni Network, which will be created in 2021 with the very first IMM graduating class. The Alumni Network will provide a focal hub through which the leadership and faculty of the IMM can continue to support IMM graduates through their PhD studies and indeed throughout their careers. Alumni can return to their home country to be involved with the IMM program at various levels, perhaps even as IMM faculty themselves, or just to give talks and share their experiences with the younger students, or maybe to participate in open days or fairs in other universities around the country to help recruit the best students. It is fully expected that the IMM will eventually transition into a locally-run highly prestigious Master program with a mixture of local and international faculty.

IMM Mission

The “Mission” of the IMM is to implement the “Vision” of the IMM. This requires a number of major steps, amongst which the recruitment of the lecturers, the recruitment of the students, the coordination of the scientific programme, the logistics of the faculty travel, the student accommodation, the teaching resources such as classrooms, and of course, last but definitely not least, the funding. Many of these issues cannot of course be discussed or completely solved a-priori in an abstract way, but rather depend very much on the country and institution which hosts the programme.

The first implementation of the IMM is currently hosted by COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), Lahore Campus, Pakistan and was launched in September 2019 with a formal inauguration ceremony, with an initial intake of 10 students from Pakistan and 2 students from Nigeria. A new cohort of 6 excellent students from Pakistan started on 15th September 2020, making up a total of 18 students currently enrolled.

However, the challenge for such an ambitious programme is the limited time availability of such prestigious international faculty. This is an unavoidable issue if the faculty consists of senior mathematicians who have their own teaching duties in their resident institutions alongside being active in research at the highest international level. To address this issue and ensure we have the highest standard of faculty members available, we have been innovative in the way we split courses into two parts so they are co-taught by visiting faculty members. When visiting faculty are able to travel for only one or two weeks at a time, they teach intensively during that period and work with the students through distance learning before and after their visit through a combination of:

  • pre-recorded video lectures
  • regularly updated and graded Google Classroom assignments
  • interactive teacher-to-students Q&A/exercise sessions through the Zoom video conferencing tool, which are recorded and made available to the students.

Details of the academic programme and the courses can be found here. Each visiting faculty member can be joined by a junior teaching assistant, often their own PhD student or postdoc, who may be able to stay longer and continue working with the IMM students before and after the course. A long-term tutor is also present to give some continuity to the various courses and lecturers throughout the programme. By arranging the teaching in such a way, IMM students are guaranteed teaching from some of the world’s best mathematicians.

One of the most promising and exciting aspects of the launch of the first IMM programme in Lahore has been the overwhelming number of enthusiastic offers from volunteer lecturers and tutors, indeed more than the number of available places. The list of “Faculty” and “Tutors” can be found at the corresponding linked pages, with detailed personal profiles for each one. If you would like to be part of the International Mathematics Master, take a look at our ‘Get Involved’ pages (teach, host or donate) for further information.

Message from Scientific Coordinator

Promoting mathematical excellence in developing countries.