Mathematical competitions for university students

Hi, this is Artem Eliseev again and today I would like to say some words about mathematical competitions for students. We’ve already written about supplementary activities in mathematics, which take place in Saint-Petersburg (, but only activities for high school students were discussed.

Of course, studies at university are completely different from high school studies since education at university is far more difficult and not so much time could be spent on side activities such as competitions in mathematics. Nonetheless, some students still have fuel in their tanks after and try to do their best at solving mathematical problems.

As it always happens, if there are students doing math, competition for them emerges. There are several mathematical competitions for university students all over the world and the most prestigious and notable among them is the IMC – International Mathematical Competition. It is organized by University College of London and held annually since 1994. The competition itself takes place over two days when students are given 5 problems each day from the fields of algebra, real and complex analysis, combinatorics and geometry.

As expected, past participants of the IMC usually prefer a career in mathematics, but one story should be told in more details.  Shortly after the IMC 2000, which was held in London, one of the participants called Fereydoun Derakhshani (third prize winner, by the way) relocated to the UK from his home Iran. Today we know him as Caucher Birkar, a mathematician who was awarded the Fields Medal in 2018 – Fereydoun changed his name after emigration and it means “migrant mathematician” in his native Kurdish.1

Students from Saint-Petersburg regularly participate in the IMC and usually do it well – for example, a team from Saint-Petersburg State University (SPbSU) has won the competition in 2018 (the major part of the team is pictured here).

You may ask – what is key to success? You can probably answer yourself – yes, practising, practising and again practising. A well-developed system is introduced in SPbSU to allow only the best students to enter the team to the IMC. One of the key components of this system is the participation in local competitions, which take part in Saint-Petersburg – some of them are listed below.

Several competitions are organized by ITMO University – one of Russia’s National Research Universities. The list of competitions includes the mirror of W.L.Putnam Mathematical Competition, which takes place in the USA, Olympiad of ITMO University and also NCUMC – North Countries Universities Mathematical Competition. The last competition has an international status and students from all over the world come to Saint-Petersburg to participate in it – for example, a student from University of Buenos Aires joined NCUMC’19 despite the fact that Argentina is not a northern country at all.

There is also a competition organized by ITMO University – Regional Olympiad for University Students of Saint-Petersburg. SPbPU participates in this competition for a while and we have achieved a significant success last year – the team of our university has won the third-place prize (see two guys from the team here). This a great result for us since we have not been in prizes for almost five years.


The list of the competitions may be continued – also competitions in different branches of mathematics such as topology, probability theory, discrete mathematics and others are held in Saint-Petersburg and other Russian cities.

I hope you enjoyed this post and for the conclusion, I suggest you a problem from the last Regional Olympiad for University Students of Saint-Petersburg – give it a try 🙂 “Find all polynomials P(x), such that equation xP(x-1)=(x-2019)P(x) holds for any real x”.

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