Advanced search

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

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.

Readers' comments (2)

  • All very sensible stuff, but can we not put Media Studies and philosophy in the same category, please? Discussing the supposed social significance of Big Brother isn't quite comparable with analysing Popper's theories of falsifiability or Plato's dialogues.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The point wasn't to compare the two as academic disciplines, nor indeed to criticise them. But rather to refer to the popular perception they share of being subjects that don't lead very easily to jobs.

  • Engineering will rank along lawers or bankers when they get paid the same.

    I did my degree in Electrical Engineering over 20 years ago and had to leave the UK to get anything like the same salary as my friends who did engineering degrees and then became accountants.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say


My saved stories (Empty)

You have no saved stories

Save this article