Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  Q20  Chairman: But you could have gone to five or six?

  Ms Huntington: I presume, so but I liked the idea of Newcastle, the university and the city and it felt it the right decision to make.

  Q21  Chairman: Ian, how did you choose?

  Mr Hutton: I guess when I was looking at courses I picked a generalist course because, as I said, I felt that at each level I kept going up and new areas of the subject kept opening up and I did not want to get to university and find out that I would rather be doing something else at that sort of level. Then university-wise, I guess I picked UEA because they always described themselves as a research-led teaching school and the idea of having the people doing the research—

  Q22  Chairman: So it was the research that stimulated you?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, making the publications—

  Q23  Chairman: Why do you think research makes a difference? I mean, you just read it by rote and you pass exams, do you not?

  Mr Hutton: No, not really because the people who are doing the research, they are the people who are actually progressing the field of biology and they are the people who are finding out new things and making the publications. They are writing what goes into the journals, and it is very nice to be able to go to a lecture and to be told, "Actually this paper came out last year but since then our group has discovered that this in fact is what is going on." That was one of the things that I wanted, to be taught by the people doing the research at the forefront of the subject.

  Q24  Chairman: Did you care about whether the department had a grade four, grade five, five stars or whatever? Did that affect you at all?

  Mr Hutton: I had heard about the ratings but that was not what I based my decision on; I based my decision on when I went round and when I talked to people and when I was shown round the school at the Open Days. That was what gave me a real feel for the school. You can put numbers on a lot of things but until you actually see them you cannot always relate them.

  Q25  Chairman: Danielle, how did you choose?

  Ms Miles: I chose university pretty much on the feel of the place again. I applied to a couple of universities with similar courses. I chose Exeter in particular because they did forensic modules and I was interested in forensic science, but I did not want to do a forensic degree, I wanted to get a chemistry one so that I could still do other science careers if I changed my mind later on. And they did the forensic module which would help me.

  Q26  Chairman: Forensics?

  Ms Miles: Yes.

  Q27  Chairman: Is that because you watch telly a lot, or what?

  Ms Miles: Not really! I am not one of the CSI fans, no, I do not watch that! I have always been interested in it, as well as the police and things like that. I chose the university in the end—I just went and had a look at it—just the friendliness of it and the way they taught and the contact hours and everything like that, I thought it would suit myself.

  Q28  Chairman: Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: I actually chose Aston because it had a good foundation course that I needed to get for my degree.

  Q29  Chairman: For really different reasons, I suppose. So what use was the science at school to you? Did you get it knocked out of your head in the first week, second week, or was it helpful, do you think, having a background in the science you got at school or was it irrelevant to what went on and has gone on later?

  Mr Hutton: It was helpful but the actual direction of the course takes you in another direction in your second and third years. The first year, some of it you have already done at A Level and other bits you have not and they bring you up to speed on that. Then the second and third years they specialise you in the true nature of what biology is.

  Q30  Chairman: Does anybody want to add to that?

  Ms Miles: I feel with the chemistry—it is slightly different for me because I did not have the teachers teaching me and I am not really sure if I got as much out of my A Levels as I could have done if I had a teacher—you are not really told the whole truth; they give you an easier version of it to digest. And sometimes I feel in my course now it would have been more helpful if they had us the truth in A Levels and GCSEs rather than skimming around the outside of it.

  Q31  Chairman: You mean they lied to you, did they, Danielle? Who lied to you, Danielle?

  Ms Miles: Only white lies!

  Q32  Chairman: Write it down on a piece of paper! Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: I agree with Danielle.

  Q33  Chairman: You know why we are having this inquiry, presumably, that we are very concerned with what is happening to science in universities and the fact that many people in schools like yourselves are not going on to do these courses because they may not be there, or they do not see any future in it, or whatever. How do you explain what is happening, the number of students going into science? You were obviously fired up, enthusiastic, determined, under pressure and so on, but a lot of people are not risking that any more. Why do you think that is?

  Ms Miles: I think it is because it is being made increasingly harder, the fact that less people are going there and less courses, and there are so many things that are easier to get on to.

  Q34  Chairman: You mean science courses?

  Ms Miles: Yes, there are less science courses but there are a lot of different degrees in different areas that have less qualifications that you need to get on to them.

  Q35  Chairman: Do you still think that there are soft art courses that you can do, like media studies, shall we say, and end up on Radio 4 or something? Is there a lot of that still around?

  Ms Miles: Yes, an awful lot of that, and I think there is a lot of pressure to go to university now. I have been talking to my mum, and from her generation they never even considered university at her school, but at my school it was just the next step. Pretty much everyone in the sixth form went on to university. And because there is so much pressure you think you have to go to university, even if you have not got the grades to do what you want, so you go on and do a degree that might not be what you want to do but it is just easy to get on to it, and you are at university. So people are going for the wrong reasons and not doing truly what they want to do, maybe.

  Q36  Chairman: My daughter tells me that the scientists she knew at school—she was on the sociology side and so on—that the scientists at school were always thought of as "geeks", that they were a bit strange. Is that still there in school?

  Ms Miles: It is at university still as well. I remember my first week at Freshers' Week, when everyone was asking what you are studying, and the facial expressions of people when you say, "I do chemistry," is an "Ooh" kind of look on their faces. They say, "Why are you doing that?"—"It is because it is what I want to do, it is a good subject to do," and there is a whole image of it as not being very cool, as you say, and looking like "geeks".

  Mr Hutton: It is almost as though there are these two cultures that go with university; there are the people who go to study and the people who go to university because they feel that they should, and they get on an easy course and they spend a lot of time lazing around and relaxing, and often you are stigmatised if you do a science course, purely because of the number of hours, and people see that in fact you want to do that.

  Q37  Chairman: That is not just at UAE, is it?

  Mr Hutton: No.

  Q38  Chairman: You have to watch because the Press are here, you know! So you think that is general in schools and the thinking?

  Mr Hutton: Yes.

  Ms Miles: Yes.

  Q39  Chairman: What do you think, Amy?

  Ms Huntington: I think it is a little bit that people at school are not sure. Maybe the careers advice is not as good as it could be? They do not have the information that, "If you want to go into this you will need a science degree" or "A science degree will help you do this career or that career."

  Chairman: Go on, Brian, pitch in.

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