THE bid by South Africa to host the International Mathematical Olympiad next year teeters on the brink of collapse — unless R6m can be found by the end of the month.

Pupils in South Africa are bottom of the global class, according to the latest International Mathematics and Science Study in 2011, while Grade 9 pupils averaged a dismal 12.7% in mathematics in the Department of Basic Education’s annual national assessments last year.

The organisers of the Olympiad, the 55th, hope that the event will spur more children on to higher levels of mathematical ability and feed skills into fields such as engineering, science and finance.

South African Mathematics Foundation executive director Johann Engelbrecht said on Tuesday about R4m had been received, leaving a shortfall of R6m — and the deadline is the end of the month. Half of the sponsorship came from US company Google. The Department of Science and Technology committed R1m. "While we are very appreciative of the endorsement and support from government, we need private money ," Prof Engelbrecht said.

The Vietnamese government covered 100% of the costs when it hosted the Olympiad. Thailand, which is hosting it in 2015, has been guaranteed government support and so has Brazil, for 2017.

South Africa’s national, provincial and local governments pumped nearly R500m into the African Cup of Nations tournament which ended last week.

"Mathematics is not soccer, but it is probably more important for the future of the country," Prof Engelbrecht said.

TriAlpha MD Theron van Wyk said the investment house "jumped" at the opportunity to sponsor the Olympiad, as strong maths skills are critical. He challenged other companies to follow suit. "We don’t need average mathematicians, but top ones."

The Department of Science and Technology said on Tuesday olympiads contributed to maths development, but it could only support "within financial constraints as dictated by the departmental mandate and priorities".

Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom had provided a letter endorsing the organisers’ attempts to secure financial support from other sources.