British biology degrees are being "dumbed down" as fewer field courses mean that practical skills are no longer taught, a conference heard last week.
The University Marine Biological Station, Millport, which serves more than 30 institutions, has seen a 20 per cent reduction in the number of students attending its courses since the early 1990s, the meeting at the centre heard. What was typically a two-week or ten-day course is now often reduced to a week.
John Davenport, director of the Millport station, said: "The decline is cost driven. Departments are increasingly seeing fieldwork as a luxury they cannot afford. We are moving towards a spectre of richer students being able to have the experience and poorer students missing out.
"Fieldwork is the best way of introducing students to concepts such as biodiversity and taxonomy," he added.