Science education, ethical concerns about scientific developments and new areas of research were all highlighted at the British Association's annual science festival in Cardiff this week. More than 4,000 academics and members of the public attended, along with 4,000 school children.
Less than 60 per cent of a science degree should be academically based, according to Keith Major of the University of Bath. The personal development of students and preparation for employment should be enhanced, he argued. "Students pay for a service and they are getting more critical, and employers are criticising the output of graduates who lack basic skills," he said.
Dr Major also argued that despite denials that a national curriculum for higher education is being imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency, universities are moving towards a more uniform curriculum.
"The nature of higher education is changing," he said. Initiatives such as the teaching quality assessment exercise "have revolutionised the information that is given to students".
Science education between the ages of five and 16 should also be completely overhauled to suit lower achievers in the sciences, according to Jonathan Osborne, a senior lecturer in science education at King's College, London.
This "dumbing down" would have enormous implications for higher education. The recommendation will be made in Beyond 2000: Science Education for the Future, an independent report by 20 educationists, when it is officially launched on November 17.
In a separate session on the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the chief executive of Nesta, Jeremy Newton, admitted a potential clash with the chairman, Lord Puttnam.
Newton thinks that Nesta should concentrate on supporting talented individuals and helping bring ideas to the market, whereas Lord Puttnam would like to support the public appreciation of science, technology and the arts.
"A way will have to be found of reconciling these views," said Mr Newton.