The role and positioning of numeracy in Australian universities – does it matter?

  • Lesley Wilkins Learning Development, University of Wollongong, NSW
Keywords: numeracy, academic numeracy, literacy, academic literacies


Numeracy has been problematic for practitioners. It has been difficult to determine a consistent definition of the term; moreover, there has never been real agreement on its role, or position, within society, or within higher education. Many students who find mathematics “challenging”, but who need to pass a non-specialist mathematics subject in order to graduate, consult Learning Development lecturers in order to obtain assistance with mathematics. Students present with a variety of difficulties ranging from gaps in their schooling, especially senior school mathematics, through to more fundamental mathematics topics. Many students confess to being “bad at maths”; are openly negative about their mathematics ability; and perhaps do not realise that there are applications of mathematics in their everyday lives. What could be considered alarming, however, is that it can be observed that many students seeking assistance possess little or no obvious “number sense” or estimation skills, and have little knowledge and poor understanding of even the most straightforward addition and subtraction facts. Of these students, many are endeavouring to become Primary Education teachers, whose anxiety, lack of mathematical knowledge and/or lack of confidence may be passed on to their prospective students. Could there be a link between the ready acceptance, even at the higher education level, of negativity towards mathematics and the negativity shown by society – even to the point of apathy – towards mathematics? This paper proposes to open the discussion on whether there is a need – or indeed a responsibility – for Australian universities to embrace numeracy, not simply as one of the academic literacies, but as a hugely important component of their graduates’ attributes, in its own right.

Author Biography

Lesley Wilkins, Learning Development, University of Wollongong, NSW
Mathematics Lecturer, Learning Development
How to Cite
WilkinsL. (2016). The role and positioning of numeracy in Australian universities – does it matter?. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 10(1), A69-A86. Retrieved from