It is not an uncommon event for German primetime television to transmit programmes on science or hold science quizzes. Indeed, an interest in science is very much part of the Germanic persona, perhaps explaining why German-speaking countries have become, and continue to be, economic powerhouses across Europe. The German government has just announced that it will specifically target engineering to school leavers as the best way of bringing skills to this section of society which is otherwise likely to wallow in low paid, monotonous jobs. Alas, such enthusiasm is not part of British culture; at least not since Sir Isaac captured world attention with his discoveries back in the seventeenth century.
However, despite the current UK media fest regarding the demise of science, all is not doom and gloom. Colleges in South East England are to be congratulated on their determination ““ and considerable success – to reverse the alleged decline.
Alton College is a good example of what can be achieved: the college has seen a 15% increase in enrolments at AS Level across the science spectrum and this growth in numbers has been achieved while maintaining outstanding pass rates. In lieu of this, the college invested £3 million last year in a Science Centre to cater for the increased intake.
In Sussex, Richard Collyer College has had spectacular results with students achieving two out of the top five A-level Electronics” results. The college has had no difficulty in maintaining student interest, thanks largely to energetic and passionate staff under the leadership of Joe Brock, physicist, who reports that growing numbers will soon render existing facilities insufficient.
Queen Mary’s College in Basingstoke is working with Southampton University, secondary schools and companies such as SONY and Lilly Industries to provide students with meaningful insights into the study of science in HE and industry. Moreover, the college hosts courses for science teachers and provides staff to teach science to primary schools. Overall, there has been a significant increase in numbers studying chemistry and physics” enrolments remain steady.
Brockenhurst College has enjoyed an 11% increase in physics” applicants and stable numbers studying chemistry and biology. Results are excellent, with 72% achieving grades A and B at A-level, and four gifted students this year will commence Physics degrees at Oxford University. I quote Anne Johnson, Head of Science and Technology, who summarises the secret to a successful science department: “We find employer engagement vital to the process and we invite companies to come and talk to the students and reinforce the message that science is exciting and very relevant to the future”.
In short, let us stop dwelling on the headline grabbing negative trends and celebrate the achievements of hard working and very talented science departments, whose record sets the model for others to follow.
Alan Corbett, Media Officer, Association of South East Colleges [AoSEC].
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