Value them, and they will come.

The Confederation of British Industry is warning, once again, that, because of the drops in the numbers of A level pupils taking physics, engineering and technology at A Level over the last two or three decades, and the resulting drop in students taking these subjects at degree level – 32, 000 graduated in these subjects last year -, British Industry is forced to look abroad for people with qualifications in these disciplines. According to a report in today’s Guardian; [link]

The CBI says the problems begin in secondary school, and the number of A-level pupils studying physics has fallen 56% in 20 years, echoing the findings of a team at the University of Buckingham, which said last week that physics was in “terminal decline”. Over the same period the number studying A-level chemistry has dropped by 37%. And in the last 10 years the proportion of degrees in physics, engineering or technology has fallen by a third – only 32,000 graduated in these subjects last year. Yet demand for chemists, physicists, engineers, and lab technicians is rising, and by 2014 the country will need 2.4 million new workers with these skills.

Needless to say, the schools minister, Jim Knight, has a different take on things. He is quoted in the same report as saying:

“Increasing the number of scientists is a priority for this government. We are already making significant progress on delivering the actions being called for by the CBI. Since 1997 there has been a 57% increase in the number of science, technology, engineering and maths graduates, outstripping increases in graduates in other subjects. Chemistry and physics graduate numbers alone have increased by 24% and 20% respectively.”

What neither the CBI nor the good minister says, but what needs to be said, is that a lot of young people are put off studying these subjects because professionals who have qualifications in these areas are held in held in pretty low esteem by both business itself and indeed by the government. What is there to attract young people into studying these subjects? The dubious glamour of working for businesses which really do not value them,  and show that they don’t? I think not.

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