Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  Q40  Dr Iddon: If when you were applying to go to university, because it is more expensive to teach science subjects and engineering subjects, if the universities charged more to teach those subjects would you have been put off or would you have just pursued what you were interested in?

  Ms Miles: I think personally it might have slightly deterred me, just the fact I might have thought, "I am not sure," but if Exeter University had said to me, "Unfortunately we have some financial problems, we need to charge a bit more this year, maybe we need to charge you for things like photocopying and things like that, do you mind, otherwise basically you are not going to be able to finish your degree here," I definitely would have done anything to pay that money and to stay there. Also, you have to think about the amount of money that you will earn at the end of it as an incentive, if you can get that degree.

  Q41  Dr Iddon: Let us bring in Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: Yes, I think I would have been influenced by that. I might have been less likely to do it.

  Q42  Dr Iddon: It would have put you off studying—is it engineering?

  Mr Rowley: Civil engineering, yes.

  Q43  Dr Iddon: Amy, you were desperate to get to NUT?

  Ms Huntington: It depends, if the universities are charging more, where are you going to get that money from? Would I have been put off? If I had the money, possibly no; but if there is no means of getting that money, if there are no loans or whatever, then maybe I would have thought twice. The debt coming out of my degree now is scary enough, never mind if it was three times as much.

  Mr Hutton: I would have tried to have met the costs as best I could, I guess, but if I could not meet them then I would have to . . .

  Q44  Chairman: Do you have to work now when you are at university? Which bar are you running?

  Mr Hutton: I tend to work in the holidays so that I have free time when I am up at uni to concentrate on my studies really.

  Q45  Dr Iddon: If somebody provided an incentive for you to study physics, chemistry, engineering subjects, would that appeal to people, do you think?

  Ms Miles: I think it would appeal to people but I think you would get the wrong people on the courses. I think you would get more of the people that would be thinking, "I want to go to university", for the wrong reasons, to party, relax, whatever. If you were talking about money, if you were giving them money to do it, it is an incentive to think, "I will do chemistry," or whatever science, "I do not really want to go into a career of it but it is a good degree to have to do," whatever, "plus I will get money so I will get less in debt, I will just do it anyway," you might end up not having as many researchers and people going into the fields that they have studied in, and more people just going into IT with good degrees and things like that.

  Q46  Dr Iddon: Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: I agree with that, but I cannot really answer that because I did it anyway.

  Q47  Dr Iddon: Ian and Amy, if somebody gave you incentives would that appeal? Would you have been switched off your subject if there had been more money available in another subject for you?

  Mr Hutton: No, not really. I have always wanted to do biology; that is what I wanted to do so I would have done it anyway.

  Q48  Dr Iddon: So if there are shortage subjects, as there are at the moment—languages is going the same way, quite frankly, as some of the hard sciences are going, but industry keeps telling us that there are shortages of certainly good quality people from the hard sciences—do you think the government should intervene in any way to attract people into shortage subjects?

  Ms Miles: Yes, personally.

  Q49  Dr Iddon: How should they intervene, do you think?

  Ms Miles: I think there should be more control over closures. Maybe, say, if a school were to decide it was going to shut down its chemistry or biology department I am pretty sure that maybe the government could step in and say, "You cannot do that," because of the National Curriculum and everything. As far as I can see there is not really much point in having chemistry in schools if you cannot go on to do a degree at it because the less departments there are the less chance there is of getting anyone to do it and there are less people that are going to do it. So it is a vicious circle.

  Q50  Dr Iddon: The university Vice-Chancellors are saying to us and their staff are saying to us as well, "You cannot touch us, we are independent."

  Ms Miles: But they cannot be really because they have to look at the fact that the people paying for it are taxpayers and the like, and also we are all customers of the university; we pay to be there and we pay quite a lot to be there and they should respect what we want. I am not sure about everyone else's departments, but our department was up by 27% on admissions this year and they are saying they are not getting enough people in, but that is quite a large increase in this year. They just do not seem to be listening to what people want.

  Q51  Dr Iddon: Do the other three have a view on whether the government should intervene, perhaps by providing incentives to study shortage subjects? Stephen?

  Mr Rowley: I think perhaps, but I would not know exactly how.

  Mr Hutton: I think you would have to be very careful about what incentives you offered because it is not just taking the places as a blank spot and trying to put people in them, you need the right kind of people to fill those places and careful consideration would need to be given as to why those places are not being filled by the people you want them to be filled by and to try to get an incentive towards filling them with the right kind of person. I think that is the issue more than just incentives to fill the places.

  Q52  Dr Iddon: What role do you think industry and commerce has in all this? Any?

  Mr Hutton: Yes, I do to a certain extent. You can change obviously what you want to do but I guess when I was thinking about going to university I was thinking that I am going to get a job or a career within the field of biology somewhere along the line, and I guess if there was more of a drive to make it known what you could do with a degree in biology and the careers that those places could take you, all those qualifications could take you, then younger people might be more enthused to go into those subjects if they were made aware at a younger age.

  Q53  Dr Iddon: Amy?

  Ms Huntington: I think industry does have kind of a say in this. I presume they accept that it is going to be losing out on graduates filling roles, so certain companies are going to find that they do not have people to employ.

  Q54  Dr Iddon: They are recruiting in France, you see; why should they care about the British university system? My daughter is recruiting abroad for a big company—she is in human Resources.

  Ms Miles: That is where the government should get involved and that is why they should be worried that even the people that are still getting through with their degrees might not be getting recruited, and they should be worried about the fact that people like us should be able to get what we want and the jobs that we want if we are prepared to put in the time and the effort and get the education. By stopping us from doing that it is causing more problems for themselves.

  Q55  Chairman: When you are talking about incentives and you are talking to your mates at university and all that sort of thing, what do they say about bursaries and remission of fees and bigger maintenance grants? When you are having a serious conversation about it how do you think it could work, for incentives?

  Ms Miles: I think maybe if there were more sponsorship type things, so if people were getting the grades and you had to get to a certain level and you would get more money, that might put the right people in the right place and it would give them more of an incentive to be there, because you would have to be of a certain mind to be working hard to get those grades, and then if you were to get the money as a reward it would push us to it a bit more and might help more people who cannot afford to do it.

  Q56  Chairman: Ian, what do you think, and Stephen and Amy?

  Mr Hutton: That sounds like a reasonable idea.

  Mr Rowley: I agree.

  Q57  Chairman: So do you worry about the next generation of students coming through? Do you think they are going to be put off or be put on subjects? How do you feel about it? Have you escaped the atrocity of top-up fees?

  Mr Hutton: It almost seems to me like it is going to go over towards the American system, where parents will have to start saving from a child's early age if they are thinking of them going to university.

  Q58  Chairman: You mean at the zygote stage!

  Mr Hutton: Just put money aside from earlier on. I think that is the way that it appears to be moving but the public perception has not completely caught on with that yet. But I think that is how it will be in future generations.

  Q59  Chairman: Has anybody else got a view about this, the next generation? I know you are caught up in getting through yourselves and you do not look over your shoulder much at your age, but you must sometimes think about it? You must have younger brothers, sisters, or whatever, who want to do similar kinds of science subjects.

  Ms Miles: I think it is worrying because I am having to look at another university to transfer to now and to finish my degree, and not only am I myself worried about finding a good university with a good chemistry course, where I would fit in, where I could do the work and where I have got the qualifications to get on, I have also got the added worry of is it going to close down now? If people are worrying about that as well they are going to be looking at universities in a different light and be worrying about them closing down, and if you are slightly concerned that it might get closed down that will deter people even more. They need to be assured that their universities are going to be safe. When I started I had no idea that this sort of thing happens, that degrees just got cut off and that was it; I was not even concerned about it. I think now it is starting to hit the papers a bit more and it is making a bit more of an impact people are going to be worried about doing science degrees because in fact they might close down.

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