2022 BCC in Lancaster

As announced, the British Combinatorial Conference is changing parity, moving to even-numbered years. The first BCC in an even-numbered year will take place in Lancaster in 2022, with Tony Nixon as local organiser.

The dates are 11–15 July 2022, and the conference web page is here.

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Old Codgers Combinatorics Colloquium

The Old Codgers (or perhaps Old Codger’s) one-day Combinatorics meeting takes place on 6 November, as usual in the Mathematics department at the University of Reading. As usual it is organised by Anthony Hilton, with the invaluable assistance of Brigitte Calderon.

The speakers are Anthony Hilton, Justin Ward, Johannes Siemons, James Hirschfeld, Oleg Pikhurko and Norman Biggs (a fine collection of old codgers, if I may say so!)

More details on the webpage, http://www.reading.ac.uk/maths-and-stats/news/Combinatorics-Colloquium.aspx — as stated there it would be helpful if you could let Brigitte know that you are coming.

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Important announcement: Parity of BCC

At the business meeting of the British Combinatorial Conference in Birmingham, participants voted by a large margin to change the timing of the Conference from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.

The reason for the change was the fact that more competing conferences take place in odd-numbered years, including Eurocomb and RSA.

The change will come into effect in 2022, when the first of the “new sequence” will take place at the University of Lancaster in July 2022. Tentative dates are 18–22 July 2022 (note: Moved a week earlier, to 11–15 July 2022).

The preceding BCC, the 2021 meeting in Durham, will take place as already announced; the dates are 5–9 July 2021.

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Combinatorics at Strathclyde, 2

Below the line is a petition in support of the Combinatorics group at the University of Strathclyde. Below that are instructions for supporting this petition. Time is short, and we have not been able to organise a more sophisticated method of signing.

We the undersigned express our extreme concern at the proposal by the Computer and Information Sciences department at the University of Strathclyde to close the highly successful Combinatorics group in the department.

The group, though small (three members of staff), has a very strong track record. They produced 35% of the department’s 4* papers in the current REF, earning nearly a million pounds of REF and grant income in the last four years. Members of the group have held important administrative positions in the department. Also, in 2017, the group organised the high-profile and successful British Combinatorial Conference.

The department feels that Discrete Mathematics can be taught by members of staff in other research areas such as Mathematically Structured Programming, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity. We feel that this underestimates the role of Discrete Mathematics in Computer Science, and point out the dangers of having a fundamental subject taught by non-specialists.

Last year, the Bond report on “The Era of Mathematics” pointed to the importance of mathematics underpinning our economy and society, and examples and scope for knowledge exchange in all parts of mathematics, and made a case for significant increases in funding, especially at the PhD and postdoctoral level. We imagine that the Combinatorics group at Strathclyde would be well placed to benefit from this. We believe that it is never a good time for a university to withdraw from such an important area of Computer Science and Mathematics, but the timing here seems particularly bad.

We urge the department to reconsider this recommendation.

If you wish to support this petition, please email Peter Cameron (pjc20@st-andrews.ac.uk), simply giving your name and University affiliation (if you have one) and the statement “I support this petition”. I will do the rest.

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Combinatorics at Strathclyde

This is copied from my blog, but the issue is of interest to all discrete mathematicians in Britain and elsewhere, so I am copying it here – Peter Cameron.

Two years ago, we enjoyed a successful British Combinatorial Conference at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. For me it was memorable for several reasons: the appearance of my book “Notes on Counting”, my fall to the floor during the ceilidh, the booksale, and (more seriously) some fine lectures including Graham Farr’s lecture commemorating Bill Tutte’s centenary.

Now the Combinatorics group at Strathclyde (David Bevan, Sergey Kitaev and Einar Steingrímsson) is under threat.

I have received two documents; one on reshaping the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, signed by the Head of Department; and a response from the three members of the Combinatorics group.

The first document is pretty much what you might expect, with lots of fine words about “emerging vision”, “imperative”, “resources … aligned with opportunities for future growth”. Mathematics finds no place in this emerging vision.
I quote:

Combinatorics is not considered to be of fundamental importance to UG-teaching. More broadly speaking, discrete mathematics is of fundamental importance but this can be covered by many staff (eg MSP, Data Analytics and Cybersecurity staff) in the Department.

And more along the same lines. In particular, the group is castigated for not getting “grants around a million pounds or more”. [How many mathematicians anywhere hold such grants?]

The response is a much better written and argued document. (Mathematicians, after all, have to be clear – it is an important part of the job – so I am not at all surprised by this.)

They point out that the three-member group is one of the very strongest research groups in the department, having produced 35% of the department’s four-star papers in the current REF and earning REF and grant funding of close to a million pounds in the last four years. Moreover, discrete mathematics underpins computer science, and the group (being the departments only experts in the area) have developed courses for this. Members of the group have had important administrative roles in the department, having greatly improved systems for interacting with PhD students (criticised in an earlier report).

Moreover, combinatorics, or discrete mathematics (the terms are closer in meaning than the Head of Department seems to think, and if there is a difference, the group’s expertise is broader than “just combinatorics”) is perhaps the most applicable part of mathematics in the information age.

Last year, the Bond report, titled “The era of mathematics”, highlighted the importance of knowledge exchange in mathematics, argued (with many examples) that all parts of mathematics can have application, and pushed for a big increase in funding for mathematics, especially the training of PhD students and postdocs. The Council for the Mathematical Sciences has set up two committees to push forward with this, one to prioritise the recommendations in the Bond Report, and the other to convince policymakers of their importance. I would have thought that Strathclyde would be well-placed to benefit from this, if it is successful. (But not of course under the current reshaping plan.)

There have, sad to say, been several instances in Britain of universities closing down mathematics or getting rid of mathematicians in other ways. One incident that sticks in my mind, in a case where I was involved, occurred when the head of another department, at the start of an interview with the committee, said “I couldn’t hold up my head to be in a University with no mathematics department”. In another case, mathematics was closed down so that computer science could expand; this computer science department now finds that its main job consists of teaching arts students how to switch on the computer. (I exaggerate, but not too much.)

It seems to me that the Strathclyde proposal is a very short-sighted move, and unlikely to be in the department’s long-term interest. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that collaboration between mathematicians (either a department of them, or a group in a computer science department) and informaticians can be of enormous benefit to both.

If you feel as I do, you may wish to know that the head of Computer and Information Sciences at Strathclyde is Professor Neil Ghani. I am sure you can find his address; you can probably even guess it. You may also wish to contact higher authorities in the University. These are our friends and colleagues; please help if you can.

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BCC27: deadline approaching!

The 27th British Combinatorial Conference will take place from 29 July to 2 August 2019.

Warning: The deadline for early bird registration is 31 May. After that date,

  • the registration fee goes up;
  • accommodation can no longer be guaranteed (though the website has links to nearby hotels offering a conference rate).

So don’t delay; register now!

Reminder: as well as plenary talks by Michael Krivelevich, Penny Haxell, Dan Král’, Kristin Lauter, Hendrik van Maldeghem, Iain Moffatt, Igor Pak, Daniel Paulusma and Gábor Tardos, and contributed talks from participants (including yours truly), there are mini-symposia on Additive Combinatorics, Designs and Latin Squares, Extremal Combinatorics, Graph Colouring, Probabilistic Combinatorics, and Ramsey Theory.

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2019 Postgraduate Combinatorics Conference

The 26th Postgraduate Combinatorial Conference (PCC) will be held in Oxford on 10th-12th June 2019.

The PCC is an established conference organised by, and for, current research students in all areas of combinatorial and discrete mathematics, under the auspices of the British Combinatorial Committee. The PCC is mainly aimed at UK-based students, but is also open to those from abroad.

The aim of the conference is to allow research students to discuss their research in a relaxed environment, to gain practice at presenting their research outside of their own department, and to meet other young researchers in their area. Each student is encouraged to contribute by giving a talk which will last 25 minutes (including 5 minutes question and answer time).

The deadline for early-bird registration is 30 April, and the deadline for general registration is 1 June.

More details are available at https://pcc2019.github.io/

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