'Lower the grade for science pupils'

July 12, 2002

Universities should lower A-level admissions standards for students wishing to study science, Ian Gibson, chairman of the science and technology committee, said this week.

Dr Gibson said that universities should open their doors to students with poorer A-level results in maths, physics and the other sciences even if they were applying for a pure science course.

He said it was then up to universities to provide remedial classes to bring the students up to speed.

Dr Gibson criticised universities in the committee's report on science education from 14 to 19, which was published yesterday.

The report attacks university admissions policies, saying they are stuck in the past. It calls on institutions to be more flexible about subject requirements and specific A-level grades.

Dr Gibson told The THES : "Universities are far too restrictive. They are stultified with ancient concepts of what was good for Newton.

"They should really consider that science A-level grades do not reflect the final class of degree students obtain.

"A certain level of science understanding is necessary, but this can be amplified at university with good teaching."

He added: "Universities already run courses to help students with maths and physics, and I would like to see more of these."

Dr Gibson said that a scientific way of thinking and an interest in the subject was more important than A levels.

The report says there are major problems in science education in schools, particularly at GCSE level.

It says that GCSE science courses neither inspired pupils nor prepared them for science after 16. Courses are overloaded with facts, contain little contemporary science and are bogged down by boring coursework.

The report says: "Those who continue with science post-16 often do so in spite of their experiences of GCSE rather than because of them."

It says that some innovative AS and A-level courses were being developed but universities had yet to respond positively.

The report criticises universities for placing restrictive demands on applicants who arrive at university having covered very different material at A level.

The report says: "The onus should be on universities to adapt to the changing nature of their intake. Where universities require greater mathematical skills, they should take action to teach these themselves."

Dr Gibson said that the interfaces between scientific disciplines and mathematics was now blurred so that universities and schools should look more closely at the curriculum.

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