UK students are failing industry

CBI chief Sir Digby Jones has this week expressed alarm at the number of A Level students turning their back on science and foreign languages.


With the final countdown to the publication of this year’s A Level results underway, CBI chief Sir Digby Jones has expressed alarm at the number of A Level students turning their back on science and foreign languages.



CBI analysis of Government figures reveals the number of 16 to 18-year-olds taking A Level physics declined by 55% between 1984 and 2004 while chemistry declined by 33%.


And just one in 25 students study a modern language at A Level with very few studying those needed by business in the increasingly globalised world, such as Mandarin, Russian or Spanish. Schools are also no longer required to offer a language subject while in Europe pupils study two foreign languages for at least a year.



The number of 16 to 18-year-olds studying a language A Level decreased by a fifth between 1999 and 2004 with German and French down 34 and 30 per cent respectively. Last year just 451 people in England and Wales took A Level Russian, 1,677 studied Chinese and 4,650 learned Spanish.



Sir Digby Jones, CBI Director-General said: “The strength and future success of the UK economy relies on the education system producing students of a high calibre in disciplines like science and languages.



“Youngsters need to be equipped with the skills to make their way in the competitive globalised economy of the 21st century and business must have them if it is to meet the onslaught from countries like China and India. China alone produces almost 300,000 high quality science and engineering graduates each year.



“Science, engineering and technology skills are the essential building blocks of research and development. Without innovation and the ability to secure advantage the UK cannot hope to challenge these emerging markets as they invest huge resources into producing top quality graduates.”



The 2005 CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey, due to be published in the autumn, reveals that 74% of employers are dissatisfied with the language capability of school-leavers. At graduate level the level of dissatisfaction among employers was over 54%.



One fifth of companies believed they had lost business because of a lack of language and cultural skills, while one quarter had experienced problems handling international business.



“These issues must be tackled by Government, teachers, careers advisors and companies – we cannot allow it to blight the UK‘s future economic success,” concluded Sir Digby.