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News, Student Debt

“Comment: Does the UK really need more science graduates?”

Yes, we need more science graduates. Definitely. All agreed then?

Except…At the start of July, new data on what students who graduated in 2010 are doing now was released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. First, it shows us that initiative after initiative to try to get more young people into science don’t yet seem to be having much impact. There are some minor changes in graduate numbers, but with the exception of a rise of 5.5 per cent in the number of maths graduates this year, there’s nothing of great significance.

Second, we seem to have an awfully high unemployment rate for science graduates for a nation that apparently doesn’t have enough of them. And, actually, the same goes for PhDs as well.

To give an example, last summer 12,000 psychology students and 10,000 history students graduated (I chose these subjects because they are two of the most popular – psychology is actually the fastest growing in the UK). In the same year, only 2200 physics students and 2400 chemistry students graduated (what’s more, I’m a chemistry graduate and my wife a history graduate so it’s a comparison that’s close to my heart). But it was the physics graduates and chemistry graduates who were most likely to be out of work 6 months later.

From the cohort of graduates whose whereabouts were known about, 11 per cent of those physics graduates were still out of work 6 months after graduating, and only 3 per cent were in a job in science. (History and psychology did slightly better, at 8.5 per cent and 8 per cent of graduates unemployed respectively).

This is an issue because these are the figures that will be going onto the websites that the A-level students of the future will be using to check the employment prospects of the courses they’re going to be paying a lot of money for. When they see the outcomes for science courses compared to other subject that aren’t suffering a “shortage”, some of them are going to wonder what on earth the fuss is about.

So, let’s get it out there: Do we really have a shortage of science graduates?

There is an obvious answer, of course: we have a shortage of good science graduates. So, what exactly is the problem with the ones we do have? The CBI members tell us that they are short of “employability skills”. Not technical skills. So, are they suggesting that our science students are spending too much time learning science and not enough time learning business?”

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