Mathematical Prerequisites for university STEM programs: The Delphi Study



Co-funded by Deutsch Telekom-Stiftung

01.07.2015 - 30.06.2017



Over the past years, high dropout rates have been observed in STEM degree programs of German universities. Often, missing mathematical preparation of incoming freshmen are regarded a major issue and nearly all German universities offer mathematical bridging courses as remedial measures. Interestingly, such courses are rather heterogeneous – in contrast to rather coherent examination requirements for mathematics at school and to rather coherent mathematical course contents during the first academic year. Such heterogeneity might be due to the fact that a broadly accepted, systematic as well as precise specification of expected mathematical learning prerequisites in STEM degree programs has been missing, so far.



The project “MaLeMINT” aims at exploring and systematizing the mathematical learning prerequisites, which university instructors expect from STEM freshmen. A catalogue of minimum standards of mathematical knowledge and skills STEM freshmen are expected to have as early as they enter a university study will be developed based on an online survey of more than 1 000 university teachers.



The MaLeMINT project centers on a Delphi study assessing university instructors’ expectations, who are involved in the teaching of mathematics to  STEM freshmen. The Delphi technique is an established procedure to reach a consensus in a group of experts. The technique employs several survey iterations together with structured feedback. University instructors from all German higher education institutions with STEM degree programs are included in the survey.


The project report (in German) can be downloaded here (pdf, 5,8 MB).


Limitations of the study

The MaLeMINT project provides insights in university instructors’ expectations about mathematical prerequisites from STEM freshmen. However, the project cannot provide information about the causes of STEM freshmen’s problems when they encounter a STEM study at university. In particular, the project cannot provide evidence on the present debate on whether competence-based or rule- and fact-based instructions in school mathematics are better to prepare future students for a STEM degree program.


Expected Implications

Main result of the MaLeMINT project is a catalogue of learning prerequisites expected for mathematics lectures in STEM degree programs, which is based on a broad consensus among university instructors. This model may inform the development of supportive educational measures like bridging-courses the development of competence-based/competence-related self-testing tools for prospective students. Furthermore, findings are expected to stimulate the education policy debate on transitions from school to university.


Persons involved

Aiso Heinze, IPN Kiel, Mathematics Education
Irene Neumann, IPN Kiel, Physics Education /Mathematics Education
Christoph Deeken, IPN Kiel, Mathematics Education