Elizabeth Truss writing in The Telegraph ([We must shift science out of the geek ghetto, September 4, http://buff.ly/QtK1FX) highlights the importance of maths and science to our future prosperity and expresses concern about the rates of take up of maths and science in our 16-18 year olds. Yet her claim that the poor uptake of these subjects by British students is because of the unwillingness of our young people to take risks – or a desire to take the easy option – misses an important point.
It is true that we have an excellent science base, yes – but universities are experiencing real term cuts in higher education in general, and research in particular, at a time when our competitors are increasing their investment. It is a powerful message to our young people that this government is not as committed to scientific research as other countries and secondly, that there is little prospect of being able to develop and sustain a career in scientific research in the UK.
There is always more universities can do to raise aspirations by more effectively communicating the accessibility, beauty and excitement of the world of science. Anyone with a career in the field knows that hard work is a pre-requisite. However, if Elizabeth Truss and her colleagues are genuine in their desire to see a real change in the choices of our young people, then this government must increase investment in universities and research for the long-term – otherwise we will see our best talent continuing to move overseas.
History has shown that such investment will provide an economic return and it will show to our young people that pursuit of these subjects have rewards which include the prospect of a fulfilling career, including as an academic researcher in one of our world class universities.