Last week, we had the annual debate over the A-levels, with some questioning their decreasing value to businesses while others applauded the improvement in grades among hard- working students.
In the midst of all this, a report was released by the University of Buckingham which made for disturbing reading, especially for those of us who would like to see a more knowledge-based economy in Wales that can compete with the best in the world.
According to the report, entries to study for A-level physics since 1990 have fallen by 35% as opposed to a general rise of 12%. As a result, one in four UK universities, that previously had a significant number of undergraduates studying physics, has stopped teaching it since 1994. As a physics graduate from Cardiff University, I feel enormous dismay at the results of this study. The existence of more scientists in the workplace can only be good for our economy, especially given the increasing competition from China and India.
Like many others, I believe that the support of science within the university sector in Wales is key to developing a knowledge-based economy, and other countries have been far more proactive than us in recognising this. For example, Trinity College, Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland has, with the support of various government agencies, an innovative policy of hosting laboratories from a range of industries to retain postgraduate researchers and assists in providing funding and experience for further research.
This reduced the brain-drain of skilled young people away from Ireland and has reduced the 'education for export' that was developing previously, particularly in science and technology areas.
Politicians have been slow to recognise that, across Wales, universities are not just teaching students, but are training the labour force of scientists, engineers and technicians who provide one of the key ingredients for the growth of technologically advanced industrial centres. By providing graduates with the skills required by knowledge-based industries, they can affect the overall level and focus of educational attainment that, in turn, can affect a region's ability to exploit new technologies successfully. …