'Let's Start by Changing Our Science and Education Policy So That We Can Emulate the Best in the World'

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Byline: By Dylan Jones Evans

Many of you will have seen the recent call from the CBI to reverse the decline in the so-called Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) within our educational system.

The call could not come at a more appropriate time, given that the statistics on this issue make stark reading. For example, the number of students undertaking physics A-level has fallen from 54,722 to 23,657 during the past 20 years, while chemistry has also seen a dramatic decline.

Given this, it not surprising that universities across the UK have been closing departments in these subject areas at a record pace, putting the scientific base of this country at risk. Yet the connection between supply and demand has widened, and data from the CBI's own surveys shows that there will be a demand from industry for more than 750,000 new jobs in Stem subjects during the next seven years.

In order to deal with this mounting problem, the CBI has proposed that the brightest children should be encouraged into separate physics, chemistry and biology GCSE courses, and there needs to be better resources to promote careers in science and technology.

It also wants increased spending on better equipped school laboratories, incentives to recruit specialist science teachers and, most significantly, bursaries to attract students to undertake Stem courses at universities.

Naturally, as a physics graduate, I would be expected to wholeheartedly endorse these proposals.

However, as an economic commentator, I would say they are crucial in ensuring that Wales transforms itself into a high skill knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.

However, it must be noted that Wales has had responsibility for its own science and educational policy for the past eight years and, to be blunt, almost nothing has been done to ensure that we could do better than our English neighbours in this vital area.

While hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on innovation policy, very little of this has been spent to meet some of the concerns of the CBI, such as equipping science laboratories and encouraging greater student participation in Stem subjects. …