Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Chemical Industries Association

  1.  The Chemical Industries Association, (CIA), is the leading trade body representing the UK chemical industry. With gross output valued at around £49 billion, and a trade surplus of over £4 billion, the UK chemical sector is manufacturing industry's number one export earner. We spend over £3 billion on research and development annually, and we require a large number of scientists and engineers in order to maintain, and retain, a thriving and innovative chemical industry in the United Kingdom.

  2.  As a lead trade and employer organisation, we believe we have a role in supporting mainstream education, but our response is written from the viewpoint of an industry that uses the output of the education system and so gives an overview of our needs rather than referring to specific details of the curriculum as we believe there are others best placed to do this. Nevertheless we are confident that our response will provide useful background for the Select Committee's deliberations.

  3.  Research and development in industry have moved on to encompass continuous innovation, foresight, knowledge management and its use, and the impact of information, communication and technology (ICT). The CIA believes that the process for students to acquire these generic skills begins at school and continues through University, and the acquisition of these skills is absolutely vital if they are to survive in a society where individuals are likely to have a number of careers during their lifetime.

  4.  Scientists and engineers in the chemical industry can no longer continue to exist and work solely in a single discipline, or at one functional boundary, but are required to be much more flexible operating at the multi-disciplinary interface. Hence, there is a need to encourage the hunger for creativity coupled with an entrepreneurial/innovative mind-set are absolutely vital to the UK chemical industry if it is to be successful in a "knowledge-driven economy", and survive in the global marketplace.

  5.  The public perception of science and engineering is poor and this needs to be improved if young people are to be attracted to it. Although this is easier said than done in a society that is prepared to accept the benefits of science whilst being largely technically illiterate and easily swayed by the populist media, the CIA believes that both government and industry have to develop joint strategies to tackle the image problem to build an enthusiasm for the subjects in young people.

  6.  The chemical industry would, therefore, like to see an education system that provides all young people with an accurate and realistic understanding of the importance of science based industries to social, economic and environmental development and the skills and knowledge to assess the risks and benefits of science and technology and to contribute to public debate and decision making about the progress and direction of scientific research and development.

  7.  A key contributor in this is the quality of science teaching which needs to be improved especially in single subject sciences. The practical side of science also needs to be improved with better facilities and technical support.

  8.  Of equal importance is showing young people the opportunities open to them in science based industries like ours so that they can relate what they learn at school to real-life situations and processes. A recent OFSTED report, "A summary of careers education and guidance in schools" criticised the quality of careers tuition within schools. It found that one in two teachers of careers are insufficiently trained for careers work and that only one third of co-ordinators hold a recognised careers qualification. Overall, it appears that the information available to students at a time when they are making career-influencing decisions is both limited in scope and inconsistent. It is therefore vital to not only have properly trained teachers to teach science but also properly trained careers advisors.

  9.  We believe that poor science and technology teaching in schools undoubtedly results in problems at university level with the need for institutions to make students undergo remedial lessons in order to upgrade their scientific knowledge to a satisfactory level before they can commence with their degree-level course. For example, it has been observed that many students are weaker than those entering university education 10 years ago because they are accepted onto science and engineering courses without a rigorous background in Maths and Physics. They then struggle to complete the course and having done so are glad to put it behind them.

  10.  The market place for highly skilled scientists and engineers is a global one and an increasing number of chemical companies are recruiting overseas candidates, in particular from Continental Europe, for a number of reasons including:

    —  A shortage of technically able candidates in the UK in disciplines such as chemical engineering and analytical sciences.

    —  The quality and technical competence of an overseas candidate is superior to a UK candidate. This has been cited by a number of companies aided by the willingness of European scientists and engineers to relocate to this country.

  11.  Finally, we are playing our part to promote a better image of science and engineering and the chemical industry by showing a more enthusiastic, vibrant face of the chemical industry and have set up The Chemical Industry Young Persons' Network website:

  We believe this will show the breadth of career opportunities available to young people in the chemical industry, that there are real people working in industry with the same beliefs, aspirations and questions as the next person and encourage young people in schools and universities and those who educate them to enter into dialogue and debate on issues about scientific research and on the impact and contribution of the chemical industry with the young people in our industry. We are very proud of the young people in the chemical industry and believe they make excellent role models for other young people.

February 2002

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