Don’t get carried away by the increase in science A-levels

Senior reporter

The rise of science and maths A-levels takes place against a backdrop of increased youth unemployment and an upcoming trebling of university tuition fees, making employability more important than ever for students picking their exam subjects.

Some have also pointed to the so-called Brian Cox effect, a general increase of public interest in science led most obviously by the popularity of TV programmes made by the Manchester University physics professor and former pop star.

But it’s worth remembering that the students graduating today chose their A-level subjects over two years ago, suggesting the increased science subject takeup may have other causes. Wonders of the Solar System wasn’t broadcast until 2010, after all.

Young person
Courtesy of WorldSkills – Will more science A-levels translate into more young people entering engineering?

Perhaps students are viewing STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) more favourably, believing these A-levels will lead to better job prospects than often-derided qualifications in media studies or philosophy.

But why, then, are foreign languages on the decline? In our increasingly globalised society, the ability to speak French, Spanish or Chinese is a valuable commodity.

It’s great for engineering and for society in general to see more young people taking an interest in science. If students are more concerned with how employers will view their A-level choices then this could be set to increase.

However, we shouldn’t get carried away with the idea that the public has suddenly decided physics is cool and studying maths will make you rich. Engineer isn’t likely to suddenly rank alongside doctor, lawyer or banker in the most aspirational parents’ wishlist of jobs for their children.

And there’s still plenty of work to be done to turn young people’s interest in science and technology into a desire to enter relevant industries – and to make it easier for them to find a job when they graduate.