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Is it time for more focus on analytics at undergraduate education?

Is it time for more focus on analytics at undergraduate education?

Bhasker Gupta

I do not remember precisely when I picked up statistics. It was not till after my undergraduate education for sure. I had basic understanding of probability, correlation and regression but that’s about it. Most of what I know about stats and analytics were gradually picked up on job. And that’s a real shame.

Our basic education has not given much importance to statistics as a discipline, for various reasons. I did an exercise; I picked the syllabus of common mathematics subjects taught in first year of my undergrad. Findings: statistics was almost non-existent. There is inadequately more focus on calculus within applied mathematics. Yes, calculus finds usage in countless areas, but so does statistics. And isn’t the focus for most applied professionals undergrad degrees (like engineering), the real usage in the industry?

One of the reasons for statistics being overlooked traditionally is that statistics has never been considered part of mathematics. Staunch mathematicians have always looked at statistics with deep skepticism. For one thing, statistics have a huge dependency on mathematics, but so do other disciplines like physics, biology, accounting etc.

Another reason for this skepticism is the fact that statistics unlike mathematics is not an exact science. Mathematicians like to see things in absoluteness, certainty, like 2 + 5 is 7 and it will always be that. Statistics, on the other hand, is the science of uncertainty, of understanding and measuring the non-exact world that we live in. A probability of 0% for an event to occur can still happen (think of the home prices crash of 2006-08).

While the debate whether statistics is mathematics rages on in academic circles, my fear is that statistics (and eventually the analytics) falls in the same trap as financial engineering. Most engineering graduates today fumble in basic concepts of accounting when it is used in almost all walks of professional life. Just like most of engineering graduates struggle with basic concepts of statistics, like probability distributions.

True that statistics and financial engineering have been given a deep focus in business schools in some way or form. Yet, isn’t it too late to have these disciplines formally introduced? Alternatively, we have seen many post grad programs in analytics come up in recent year, but rarely any at undergrad level.

I hope and wish that the focus on analytics increases early on in our education. Either through introduction of formal analytics courses at undergrad levels, or gradually pushing to have statistics being embraced by academicians of applied disciplines.

There is no doubt in mind that applied usage of statistics in current times is extremely high, even for someone who’s not exactly working on analytics per se. And this is only going to increase over time. A good foundation of statistics at early stages of education would go a long way in creating better-skilled future professionals.

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