Plenty of scientists with nothing to do

January 3, 1997

THERE IS no shortage of scientists and engineers in the United Kingdom, but inadequate research spending by the Government and industry is killing demand for them, according to Alan Smithers of Brunel University.

Speaking at the Association for Science Education conference in Birmingham, Professor Smithers said that the UK's gross expenditure on research and development is lower than that of other leading countries including Germany, France and Japan.

The Government cut spending on research and development in the decade to 1994/95 from Pounds 6.18 billion to Pounds 5.62 billion in real terms. And private sector spending on research and development lags behind competitor countries and is highly concentrated in only three fields, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and electronics.

Professor Smithers said: "Under-investment in R&D reduces opportunities for scientists and engineers to pursue their subjects. It also sends negative signals back to schools where pupils are making their choices."

Professor Smithers said there had been a "systems failure" in the supply of and demand for scientists and engineers. Institutions struggled to fill places on science and engineering courses in the expanded university system. Annual admissions for degree courses in the past ten years had risen from about 112,000 to 240,000 but for chemistry, mathematics and physics, numbers had stabilised at 2,000 to 3,000 each.

Professor Smithers said that participation and performance in science has increased up to GCSE but this has not fed through to A level. He suggested that policy-makers needed to go beyond the separate reforms of the national curriculum, qualifications for 16-19-year-olds and higher education. "What we are lacking is a coherent, strategic vision that ensures a clear articulation between the different stages of education."

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/THE TIMES 7Jjanuary 3J1997newsJ3 Berlin bound: the Ford Foundation was drawn to funding Wolfson College, Oxford because Isaiah Berlin was to be its first principal

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