Leading Article: More Science Teaching Is Worth the Cost
THE STAFFING crisis in university science departments predicted in our home news pages today is less surprising than it may seem. As Britain's higher education system has expanded over the past generation, more lecturers and professors have been hired. But thanks to tenure and the rarity of movement between universities and industry, turnover in academic posts in higher education is small. To new graduates looking for jobs, promotion in academia seems to take place mostly by filling dead men's shoes. University teachers as a group have grown older and older.
The problem is particularly acute in science subjects that have been less attractive to new recruits. In chemistry departments, for instance, one quarter of the academic staff are likely to retire over the next six years. This is a symptom of a more serious underlying malaise: the undervaluing of science and engineering degrees. When companies do not want to hire specialists in a discipline, and students do not want to learn it, it is hardly surprising that few people want to teach it.
In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Government has already begun to change the financial calculations facing university departments and students. Undergraduates can now receive pounds 500 a year more for studying engineering than French literature; universities are now offered more than twice the subsidy for each science student as for each arts student. …