Thousands of scientists being lost, says CBI

Too many young people are turning their backs on science and technology because of faults in the education system, Britain’s biggest business group warned today.

The CBI said that thousands of potential scientists are being lost because of a stripped-down science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and uninspiring careers advice.

The business lobby group issued a stark warning that the erosion of a sector where the UK was traditionally very strong could hit the economy hard as new international competitors emerge and old rivals become stronger.

The number of A-level pupils studying physics has fallen by 56% in the last 20 years. Over the same period those studying A-level chemistry has dropped 37%.

Over the last decade the number of graduates who leave university with a degree in physics, engineering or technology has slumped, as a proportion of the whole, by a third – only 32,000 undergraduates qualified in these subjects last year.

The CBI estimates that by 2014 the country will need to find another 2.4 million people with these skills to meet expected need.

British-based businesses are already starting to recruit from overseas because of a shortage of candidates from the UK. At the same time China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe are producing hundreds of thousands of scientists and engineers every year to drive their development and growth, the CBI said.

CBI director general, Richard Lambert, said the UK risked being knocked off its perch as a world-leader in science, engineering and technology, which could be disastrous for the economy.

“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,” he said.

“We must smash the stereotypes that surround science and re-brand it as desirable and exciting; a gateway to some fantastic career opportunities.

“The government has time to tackle these problems before they become critical. However, this means it must set itself more challenging targets, not settle for easily achievable ones which do not deliver for the needs of the country quickly enough,” he said.

He urged ministers to do more to build on training bursaries for science teachers and ‘golden hellos’ for students entering the profession.


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