STUDENTS are coming to university courses lacking in critical mathematical thinking skills, a leading Scottish principal has said.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal of Glasgow University, issued the warning during an evidence session of the Economics Affairs Committee of the House of Lords.

During a discussion on the importance of skills in higher education Lord Turnbull said there was a political elite in the UK who were “brilliant with words”, but their ability to handle statistical concepts and analyse data was “poor”.

Sir Anton agreed with other panel members that allowing pupils to drop maths meant that only a small minority left school with significant mathematical ability.

He said: “I think this is what gives a number of other countries an advantage.

“Universities are often having to pick up the pieces there in terms of the level of mathematics preparation. We do what we can, but we are impaired by what the pipeline produces.”

Professor Edward Byrne, from King’s College London, said the concerns were a “very real and important issue”.

He said: “Specialisation at “A” level means that only about 20 per cent of young people in England leave school with significant mathematical ability. In Australia the figure is 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

“I do think universities need to look at raising cognitive reasoning capacity and mathematical literacy and giving some of these young people a second chance to get their skills up.”

Dr Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Higher Education at University College London, said: “I think you can make an argument for saying that mathematics should be compulsory to the end of school. Some countries do this and it doesn’t do them any harm.”