From education to employment

Head of UKs business group reports on worrying trend

The UK’s biggest business group today warned that thousands of potential scientists are being lost, adding that the government needs to set itself more challenging targets.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) stated that too many young people are turning their back on science and technology due to faults in the education system. Accordingly, future scientists are being lost because of a stripped down curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and uninspiring careers advice.

CBI Director-General Richard Lambert said: “Employers are increasingly worried about the long-term decline in numbers studying A level physics, chemistry and maths, and the knock-on effect on these subjects, and engineering, at university. They see, at first hand, the young people who leave school and university looking for a job, and compare them to what they need – and increasingly are looking overseas for graduates”.

In a statement issued this morning, he says that the UK’s world class science base is being “eroded”, in contrast to India, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe who are producing hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers every year.

However, while the numbers may have been dwindling, he states that the demand for jobs such as chemists, physicists, engineers and lab technicians has been rising consistently. Furthermore, by 2014, the country will need to have found 2.4 million people with these skills to match the expected need.

“We must smash the stereotypes that surround science and re-brand it as desirable and exciting; a gateway to some fantastic career opportunities”, continues Mr Lambert. “But the UK risks being knocked off its perch as a world-leader in science, engineering and technology. We cannot afford for this to happen”.

According to the CBI’s research, the problems begin in secondary school, culminating in the worrying statistic that the number of A-level students studying physics has fallen by 56% over 20 years. In the same period, the percentage of those studying A-level chemistry has also fallen by 37%.

And even after this, the number of graduates who left university with a degree in physics, engineering or technology last year was only 32,000 ““ almost a third down proportionally over the last decade.

“This is not a criticism of young people”, Mr Lambert clarified, “they work hard to achieve the best possible grades in the system provided. But it is clear we need more specialised teachers to share their enthusiasm for science and fire the imaginations of pupils and to persuade them to study the core individual disciplines to high levels”.

In a carefully worded statement, Mr Lambert insists that government set itself targets that are more challenging and not settle for easily achievable ones that do not deliver quickly enough. Although the current approach was commendable, taking the form of training bursaries and “golden helloes”, he argues that progress is too slow. Ministers, the CBI notes, should build on this as a priority and make the profession more attractive as a career option.

Vijay Pattni.

Related Articles