Submission from Professor Alan Wells,
Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, University of Leicester and Non-Executive
Director, National Space Centre
SPACE EDUCATION AND SKILLS AT LEICESTER;
CURRENT AND FUTURE ROLES OF THE NATIONAL SPACE CENTRE
The University of Leicester and the National
Space Centre, together, support a distinctive involvement in space
education and skills creation deriving from the University's extensive
and long running space research programme. There has been a Leicester-built
instrument operating on an orbital spacecraft in every calendar
year since 1967. Currently, five operational satellites are carrying
instruments or software built in the University's Space Research
Centre and these support a wide range of scientific research and
outreach projects in high energy astrophysics and earth climate
studies. The Beagle 2 Lander Operations Control Centre was designed
and developed by a Space Research Centre team and housed, for
public information and outreach purposes, in the National Space
Centre, public access commencing with the launch of Mars Express
in June 2003 and continuing for six months until the declared
termination of the (unsuccessful) Beagle 2 search and recovery
operation. Visitor numbers at the National Space Centre increased
by 15% over that period.
The University's Department of Physics and Astronomy
initiated the first undergraduate course in the UK in Physics
with Space Science and Technology in 1991, complementing the earlier
successful Physics with Astrophysics course. Many of its graduates
and post-graduates have since progressed to space related employment,
in research, industry, education and policy.
The University is a founding partner of the
£60 million National Space Centre (NSC), which was developed
from the University's founding proposal to the Millennium Commission.
(Wells and Ponter, 1995). The University has run the UK Space
School for over a decade, most recently in partnership with the
National Space Centre.
The report to BNSC on space education (Barstow,
2005) reflects the prominent role of Leicester scientists in migrating
space and astronomy themes into outreach programmes for schools,
regionally and nationally, both through Departmental programmes
and in conjunction with the National Space Centre.
The UK Government's Science & Innovation
Investment Framework 2004-14 (2006) highlights the growing skills
shortage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM):
a gap that is increasing as demand rises from business coupled
with a decrease in interest from students choosing their A-level
and degree options.
A contemporary role for space science in education
and outreach was reviewed at the First Appleton Space Conference.
(Wells, 2005) The main findings were:
Students in the age group 7-14 are
receptive, curious and inspired by space-related educational experiences
such as are encountered at science visitor centres. Providing
for this age group is rewarding and is done well at the National
Space Centre and elsewhere. The National Space Centre supports
over 50,000 school visitors annually in its education programmes.
Studies have shown that positive changes in attitudes towards
science are retained by over half of the participants, for months
after a well organised school education visit to the National
Space Centre (Jarvis & Pell, 2002).
Many students turn away from physical
sciences between the ages of 14 and 18. A-level entries in physics
are in steady decline nationally, dropping from 33,200 in 1997
to 27,400 in 2006 (IOP, 2007).
Poor quality of physics teaching
is identified as a core problem (Smithers & Robinson, 2005).
Only 1/3 of GCSE science students in state
schools are taught by a graduate physics teacher. Teachers of
physics, especially those not trained in physics, are in dire
need of help if they are to reverse the decline in A-level entrants.
Regional Science Learning Centres
have been set up to help develop and sustain core skills for science
teachers. Space features in the East Midlands Regional Science
Learning Centre Network.
Undergraduate in-take in the physical sciences
has declined nationally for the past decade. Space Science and
Astrophysics in-take at Leicester and other Universities with
space and astronomy based courses counter the national trend.
(By 2005 astronomy graduates accounted for 10% of the total physics-based
output of around 2500 graduates. Also, see figure below).
STEM graduate output from the universities
feeds the wider science-trained workforce, including the space
industry and the teaching profession. The aerospace industry workforce
is aging and declining in size in the UK, Europe and the US. 30%
of all physics teachers will reach retirement age in the next
A US PERSPECTIVE
The US Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)
Commission on the future of the US aerospace industry (2003) lobbied
Congress on the short- and long-term workforce needs of the industry.
The report noted the high average age of the NASA workforce with
32% retiring within five years, and the decline in R&D scientist
and engineer employment in the aerospace industry from 90,000
in 1990 to 20,000 a decade later. It recommended "reversal
of the decline in, and promotion of growth of, a scientifically
and technologically trained US aerospace workforce; steps to address
the failure of math, science and technology education in America;
investment in vocational skills needed by industry; and substantive
long-term investment in education and training at the undergraduate
and graduate levels with major emphasis on mathematics and the
The Augustine Report, (2005) commissioned by
the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering
and Institute of Medicine and prepared by a committee drawn from
leaders of US industry, academe and government (including three
Nobel Prize winners), asserts that 85% of measured growth in US
income per capita can be attributed to technological change.
The report calls for actions, inter-alia, "to increase
America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics
education (10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds)".
NASA's budget of $153.3 million in FY 2007 for
education and outreach is targeted at "A lack of public understanding
of scientific enquiry, a retiring aerospace force, and job recruitment
competition for those with science and engineering degrees placing
future advancements in science, aeronautics and space exploration
at risk". The budget funds school and teacher training initiatives
run by NASA as well as "Space Grants" to each State
in the Union. State Universities often work collaboratively with
state and district schools in joint education projects.
For the past five years the National Space Centre's
education and outreach programme has been focussed mainly on the
KS two to three age group, see Table below. Provision for students
at GCSE, A level and undergraduate levels has been at a much lower
In 2006, with support from the East Midlands Development
Agency (EMDA) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research
Council, the National Space Centre began development of a new
space-themed education programme for KS 4 (age 14-16) adapted
to GCSE syllabus and a more advanced programme, including career
development themes, for KS 5 (age 16-19) students. Called "Careers
Pathways and Workforce Development," the programme uses inspirational
examples from space in physics and maths courses, aiming to encourage
students towards a science-based education and promoting science
based careers in higher education and industry. It delivers:
Space-themed syllabus material.
Teacher/researcher input to development of syllabus
material and workshop content.
Pilot education workshops and projects.
Teacher Inset training.
Delivery will be through innovative digital media presentations
and provision of training aids and syllabus material, with active
support and training to help teachers to use the material effectively.
Web-based distance learning and video conferencing will be used
to complement school visits and enable more distant schools to
These programmes, suitably tailored, will be delivered into
vocational courses in FE colleges as well as A-level students
in 6th forms. This objective specifically addresses concerns expressed
in EMDA's Regional Economic Strategy that: "the East Midlands
is the lowest of all regions in the proportion of its workforce
with degrees in science and engineering subjectsidentified
as a key factor in facilitating innovation within sectors and
A pilot Career Fair in October 2006 attracted 130 students
and 10 exhibitors from space and other high-tech companies and
universities. The first pilot education workshop for 6th form
and FE students from East Midlands colleges will take place in
Space activities in the East Midlands already have a major
impact on education, training and scientific research at the national
The Universities of Leicester and Nottingham are major innovators
in the front line of space research and development. The University
of Leicester has its internationally recognised programmes in
space science, earth observation and planetary exploration. The
University of Nottingham is the leading research centre in the
UK for advanced applications of GPS technology and a major UK
player in the Galileo mission. Both Universities run highly successful
undergraduate and post-graduate training programmes in which space
is a strong feature and whose graduate outputs contribute substantially
to the science-trained workforce of the nation. Both universities
have outreach programmes and showcase their space research activities
at the National Space Centre.
Experience at the National Space Centre, in common with other
science centres, is that space education inspires interest and
contributes to scientific skills among the young where other branches
of education fail to motivate. This observation applies mainly
to younger age science centre school visitors up to KS-3. Evidence
supporting this view is mainly anecdotal (Spencer & Hulbert,
2006) but, exceptionally, the Leicester-based study (Jarvis and
Pell, 2002) provides quantitative support for the argument.
Training and motivation of science teachers is recognised
as a major reason for poor retention of STEM in GCSE students
and the continuing decline in A-level physics entries. The additional
training and support provided to teachers through National Space
Centre INSET and other teacher support programmes is well regarded.
The East Midlands Regional Science Learning Centre Network uses
space material in its teacher training programmes. There is good
cooperation and consultation between the National Space Centre,
the Regional Science Learning Centre, and other educational stakeholders
that helps support the delivery of these programmes.
The National Space Centre's Careers Pathways and Workforce
Development project is a novel initiative aimed at providing a
much needed bridge in space education between Secondary Schools
and Higher and Further Education. The approach is concentrating
on physical sciences in the present pilot stage and will test
out a new approach to the problem of declining interesting in
science and maths among students at GCSE level and beyond. The
career development element will link it to university undergraduate
recruitment and technical training for industry.
Taken together, the National Space Centre, the two universities
and the Regional Science Learning Centre represents a cluster
of science education capabilities and a centre of excellence with
the potential to provide a powerful resource centred on the theme
of Space in Science Education. No formal structure yet exists
to coordinate these activities. Coordination is hampered by the
fact that the various activities are funded from many different
sources, with each funding agency having differing priorities.
(Ref: the submission by Mr Chas Bishop detailing the dependence
of the National Space Centre's education programmes on one-off
grants, sponsorship and cross subsidy.)
We suggest that, with sustained funding, the cluster of space
education capabilities in the East Midlands described above, could
deliver a coordinated space education effort that would have substantial
national benefit in the wider context of science education and
training. There is the potential to provide a continuum of space
related education over the whole age range from primary to PhD,
and beyond into the workforce. Indicators at the lower and upper
levels of the age range (National Space Centre at KS 2-3 and university
graduate output) already show positive results. "Careers
Pathways" and an increasing involvement of the Regional Science
Learning Centre have the potential to plug the gap at GCSE and
A-level, for the benefit of students and their teachers.
The concept of a regional centre of excellence for Space
in Science Education could be built around the existing infrastructure
involving the Universities, the Regional Science Learning Centre
and other potential stakeholders, with the National Space Centre
is the bridging partner. A similar structure, perhaps not as comprehensive,
has been in place in Scotland since 2002, funded by the Scottish
Executive currently at around £300K pa. Populations of Scotland
(~5M) and the East Midlands region (~4M), and the associated educational
requirements, are similar.
We recommend to the Select Committee the concept of regional
clusters of science education based around existing centres of
excellence in science and education. This concept is well advanced
in the East Midlands around the theme of Space in Science Education
and we wish to advance a proposal to establish a pilot scheme
in Leicester. The pilot programme could be established by 2008
if sustained with coordinated funded, preferably from a single
source, of around £300K pa. Eventually, roll-out on a national
basis throughout the nine English regions would require an annual
expenditure of around £2.7 million.
REFERENCES 1. Wells
A and Ponter A. A National Space Science Centre to celebrate
the new Millennium. University of Leicester proposal to the Millennium
2. Barstow M, Bringing Space into School Science.
Report to BNSC. 2005.
3. Science & Innovation Investment Framework
2004-14: Next steps. HMSO, 2006.
4. Wells A, 2005. Public Awareness of Britain's
Space Science Programme; the role of Education and Outreach.
www.sstd.rl.ac.uk/Appleton Space Conference/Wells.pdf
5. Jarvis T and Pell A, 2002. Journal of Research
on Science Teaching, Vol 39, 979.
6. Institute of Physics, 2007. www.iop.org/activities/statistics/education.
7. Institute of Physics Press Release., 2005.http://physics.iop.org/IOP/Press/prlist.html
8. Smithers A and Robinson P, 2005. Centre for
Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham.
9. Spencer P and Hulbert G, 2006, The Education
and Skills Case for Space. BNSC, EADS Astrium, PPARC and Yorkshire
10. AIA Commission Aerospace Industries Association (AIA)
Commission on the Future of the US Aerospace Industry (2003).
11. "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energising
and employing America for a brighter economic future".
November 2005. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy
of Engineering, Institute of Medecine of the National Academies.