An Investigation of Student Engagement and Non-engagement with Mathematics and Statistics Support Services

  • Farhana Gokhool

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In the last 30 years, Mathematics and Statistics Support Centres (MSSCs) have been firmly established at universities globally to support students with mathematical or statistical content. Universities regularly measure the effectiveness of their services, reporting that students who engage with mathematics and statistics support (MSS) have increased confidence in mathematics and improved outcomes. However, some students still fail to avail of the support.
At Coventry University, the MSSC, sigma, reports a yearly increase in student usage, yet the issue of non-engagement persists, further impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Whilst some research has been conducted around student engagement with MSS, many facets could be researched further, such as how demographic characteristics, constructs like mathematics anxiety (MA), mathematical resilience (MR) and affective reasons impact on engagement. This study aims to explore whether specific factors affect engagement, what reasons students give for using (and not using) MSS, and what recommendations can be made to tackle this issue.
A mixed-methods approach was used. Attendance and demographic data for sigma across two academic years, as well as established scales measuring students’ MA and MR, were analysed. The effectiveness of an MR intervention was also explored. Qualitative data was gathered through semi-structured interviews and a predominantly open-ended questionnaire. Key findings were used to form recommendations of future practice.
Key and novel findings showed that certain student characteristics significantly influence either whether students engage or not and how many times they visit. Questionnaire findings showed students who engaged had significantly higher MA than non-engagers and that an increase in MA also significantly predicted an increase in engagement. However, qualitative data suggested that whilst high MA may encourage some students to engage, for others, it was a source of fear. Interview findings concretely supported speculation in the literature that some students give “shallow” reasons for non-engagement to avoid revealing their “real” reason. It was further found that students give such reasons to explain their engagement too. It was concluded that there appears to be a strong relationship between MA, student characteristics and engagement, such that, should it be addressed, it may increase engagement with MSS considerably.
For MSS practitioners, the study highlights the need for more effective and affective advertising, with an emphasis on challenging assumptions that the support is remedial by increasing contact with less mathematically confident students, perhaps through embedding the support within their course. Such action is likely to promote usage of MSS by some at-risk students who presently do not engage at all.
Date of Award18 Jul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorDuncan Lawson (Supervisor), Farzana Aslam (Supervisor) & Mark Hodds (Supervisor)


  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Student Engagement
  • MSS
  • mathematics anxiety
  • mathematical resilience
  • Mathematics and Statistics Support

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