Submission from the Science Council
The Science Council brings together over 30
organisations across the breadth of science and its applications.
One of its key priorities is to strengthen and support science
education and the development of science skills in the UK. The
Science Council has consulted member bodies and found that there
are widespread concerns across disciplines and professional groups
with regard to the decision by HEFCE to withdraw funding for ELQs.
It is our belief that the UK needs to be able
to compete in the international global economy as well as be in
a position to play its part in addressing the enormous issues
facing humanity in the 21st Century, such as climate change. To
achieve this, the UK must raise levels of scientific and mathematical
literacy throughout the population as well as increase the numbers
of active scientists and mathematicians in all sectors of the
economybusiness, industry, public services and not-for-profit
organisations. Several reports, including the 2004 Science and
Innovation Strategy, Race to the Top (the recent "Sainsbury
Review") and the Leitch Review of Skills, have all recognised
this imperative. In this context the decision by DIUS and HEFCE
to reduce support for ELQs appears incomprehensible.
We are disappointed that the policy decision
was been made without wide consultation and certainly came as
a surprise to our sector. We believe that many of the consequences
for the ambition for the UK to be a knowledge based economy are
not yet apparent to Government or HEFCE although we would accept
that these may be unintended consequences. The decision is likely
to affect every industry and profession that needs to keep abreast
of technological and scientific developments: and it will not
help address the skills shortages in the UK that are apparent
now across a wide range of science and technology industries.
It is often in these sectors and these professional areas that
ELQs are very important to the recruitment of key staff, and to
their continuous development within their chosen field.
Science and technology has changed, and is changing
rapidly. It is increasingly multi- and inter-disciplinary, and
those entering the professions must have a broad base of scientific
and technical education as well as vocational qualifications gained
through their working life. The Science Council is committed to
increasing science professionalism and for this reason our Chartered
Scientist designation has continuous professional development
as a mandatory requirement: it is our view that all practicing
scientists must expect to keep up to date.
There is a lack of clarity with regard to the
definition of "equivalent level" with integrated master's
qualifications, a qualification that has been developed strongly
within the science and mathematics communities.
The Science Council notes the intention to introduce
loner-term safeguards for institutes such as the Open University
and Birkbeck University of London. We note however that other
institutes play a more significant role in courses in some areas
of science and technology and we therefore hope that nation-wide
and regional safeguards will be introduced.
The Science Council puts the case that it would
be in the public interest for Government to contribute to ELQs
for the following reasons:
To encourage study in an areas of
national need beyond the limited number identified as strategically
To enable the development of knowledge
and skills in areas of new science, one that has moved on rapidly,
or one in which it would be strategically important for the UK
To enable individuals to move into
an area of employment and opportunity, particularly in response
to changing patterns of industry and investment.
To enable women returnersthose
aiming to re-skill after raising a family. UKRC indicates that
this is the largest group within the part-time learners studying
for second degrees.
To enable students aiming to re-skill
or transfer to different jobs after a disability makes continuation
in a current job impossible, and other similar disadvantaged or
To enable students in low income
professionsand these might be science and technology basedwho
would wish to have the opportunity to retrain to gain improved
career prospects and earning potential.
To facilitate and encourage increased
professionalism in science and its applications but enabling those
within a profession to undertake additional training or education
to qualify for Chartered Status and maintain a continuing commitment
to continuous professional development.
To facilitate and encourage the take
up of top-up modules of learning particularly in the areas of
business skills in relation to the application and development
of science and technology.
Higher Education is the principle environment
in which professional scientists, and those wishing to become
professional scientists, will gain their additional skills. Some
examples are set out below.
The Institute of Physics and Engineering in
Medicine runs two training schemes, one for graduates in physical
sciences or engineering who go on to undertake post graduate education
and vocational training in medical physics or clinical engineering,
and one for undergraduates, currently workplace based, who undertake
H-level vocational degrees in clinical physics technology or clinical
Both of these programmes attract a small but
significant proportion of trainees who enter with existing equivalent
qualifications that do not have the right educational content
to give the necessary knowledge base needed to support and underpin
the associated vocational training.
Medical physics and clinical engineering trainees,
whose aim is to be registered as Clinical Scientists by the Health
Professions Council, often enter with four-year first degrees
of MPhys, MEng, MSci and MMath, which are now regarded by the
QAA as M-level degrees.
37% of the current Part 1 trainees in medical physics and clinical
engineering have entered with such degrees and have, or are undertaking,
MSc degrees in medical physics or medical or bioengineering from
one of the 18 MSc degrees accredited by IPEM at 13 UK universities.
The extract from the QAA benchmark statement in footnote 137 distinguishes
these specialist MSc programmes from the M-level first degrees,
but it is not clear whether the same distinction is being made
by HEFCE and DIUS when they consider the equivalence of such different
Trainees in clinical physics technology and
clinical engineering technology now follow a vocational training
programme which is currently workplace based, but includes a part-time
BSc (Hons) in Clinical Technology. Although most trainees will
not enter the training with a first degree, a number of existing
graduates do enter this training scheme. Three examples are known
of candidates with a BSc (Hons) in Sports Science, a BSc (Hons)
Human Biology and a BSc (Hons) in Biology/Life Science, respectively,
who are following the BSc in Clinical Technology programme to
give them the necessary underpinning knowledge in clinical technology,
including (according to the training specialism) specialist subject
knowledge in areas such as nuclear medicine technology, radiotherapy
physics technology and medical equipment management.
The British Computer Society warns that there
is a growing skills shortage in IT. There has been a significant
fall off in the number of students taking computing courses in
the UK. However, the IT sector continues to grow rapidly which
means that many of those entering the field, particularly as graduates,
will not have a primary education in computing science.
Employers are more willing to employ those with
a qualification in a related or relevant field and to train them
once in employment. They urge the Government to exempt Computer
Science from this ELQ funding decision.
This is often true of new or emerging areas,
professions and technologies. Opportunities develop in areas of
science and technology build from the knowledge gained in qualifications
gained earlier. For example, individuals may not have specialist
qualifications in the field of their current employment and will
need to take additional courses to gain this expertise. And, of
course, if a field is relatively new or has a new professional
development programme (for example clinical research), there are
unlikely to be new graduates available for employment so an existing
workforce will need to retrain or gain profession specific qualifications.
BPS have indicated that while supporting the
exemptions already set out in the HEFCE consultation paper, they
have identified that there are additional routes into clinical
psychology and other NHS-related psychology/mental health training
that have not been included. The BPS also identifies as a concern
the confusion around the status of conversion awards in psychology
in relation to these proposals. They are also concerned about
the impact on part0time students and whether there is sufficient
understanding of this, particularly in terms of discrimination.
The Committee of Mathematical Sciences has urged
that mathematics sciences should have a complete exemption from
the ELQ policy. But they also identify that the need to retrain
and upskilling mathematical sciences is well recognised across
all areas of the economy and should be a key area for life-long
learning. Part-time study in the higher education sector is the
most realistic was to achieve this.
The majority of the professionals working for
qualifications with the Institute of Clinical Research fall within
the category of obtaining a qualification lower than their first
qualification. For example, many Clinical Research Associates
will have a PhD (in for example in animal or human genetics) and
will then undertake an MSc in clinical research. Both the student
and the profession believe that a qualification in the specialist
subject will enhance the quality of clinical research and trials
in the UK as well as help individual career progression.
These anonymised case studies illustrate the
issues raised above.
1. A 47 year old woman with a first degree
in English, who had been out of paid employment and child-raising
for nearly 20 years, took the British Psychological Society recognised
degree in psychology when her marriage broke up. She lacked confidence
and unclear beyond an interest in psychology as to what the future
could hold for her. She began with quite low grades in her level
1 studies, but averaged 2:ii grades at level 2 increasing to 2:i
in her third year.
She became active in the OU psychology student
association, and through organising and attending events and meeting
other students became more confident and articulate, and developed
a keen interest in counselling psychology.
After graduating she took a 1 year BACP course
in counselling at her local college, and then worked in a GPs
surgery for a year on monitored placement before applying for
and gaining a full-time post in a University counselling service.
2. After securing a BSc in Genetics and
a PhD in Molecular Biology, this student's life changed when she
had to move to Germany with her husband, who worked in the Royal
Air Force. Thinking about their future hopes for children, she
decided that a career change to teaching would fit with their
plans better than a role in research, which was less suited to
family life. She and her husband were in Germany for two years,
during which time she studied with The Open University for a PGCE.
On their return to the UK, she took some time
off to have children. Keen to illustrate her commitment to her
teaching career, she took an MA in Educational Leadership and
Management and a Diploma in Special Education Needs with the OU
whilst having time off with her family. This meant she was able
to re-enter the job market easily and now works full time as Head
She is now taking a Chemistry degree as there
is more demand for teachers in this subject. She has ambitions
to move to Head of Science: having experience in both biology
and chemistry means she would be much more employable.
Although her school gave a small contribution
to her Masters and Chemistry studies, she has paid the bulk for
her studies herself.
She said: "If there were higher fees for
these courses I would not have been able to do them. As a teacher,
the return in terms of salary through career progression would
not have offset the cost of the studies. It would certainly impact
on my career development".
Gaining Specialist Skills
Despite having a Certificate in Education and
a BEd and having taught for many years across the range of education
sectors: secondary, primary and further education, the student
was hampered from progressing her chosen fields of English and
French by the lack of a specialist degree, so she began to consider
other options. She wanted to remain in education and use her knowledge
and experience, and educational psychology seemed to be an ideal
Once she had decided to train as an educational
psychologist, she first had to do a psychology conversion course,
a Post-Graduate Diploma in Psychology. She studied with the OU
for a year then gave up work for a year to follow the course,
which automatically gave her Graduate Basis for Registration.
Following this she obtained a place on the Professional
Training course for Educational Psychology at University of Wales
Swansea. She was one of 10 trainees on the course in Swansea (of
whom 50% of us were over 35 years old). She was fortunate to gain
a position immediately after the course as an educational psychologist
for West Glamorgan at the age of 44. She worked generically but
with specialist responsibility for children with visual impairment
and also worked at the deaf/blind unit.
In 2004 she began working at a Dyslexia Unit.
She is now Head of the Assessment Service which provides assessments
for children, students and adults.
Post redundancy re-skilling
1. In the 1980s a woman in her late 20s,
working in personnel and human resources within the banking and
finance commercial sector, gained professional personnel management
qualifications to HND level.
In early 1990s she moved into work in the software
industry, and became interested in the radical management and
business changes which took placed during that period. After being
made redundant she studied with the Open University to gain a
British Psychological Society recognised degree in psychology
in 1995, which took her on to a PhD in business psychology at
a conventional university.
She now runs her own successful consultancy
providing analysis of business process and management practice
to companies, and senior management coaching and development.
She also taught for the Open University on courses in both the
psychology and business programmes, and for the Universities of
Manchester and Nottingham.
2. Holding a postgraduate diploma in management,
this student did not hold a first degree. He is in his 40s and
four years ago found himself unemployed. He left his previous
field of IT to start his own business in biotechnology, but a
lack of finance led to the end of the business start-up.
He had been out of the IT sector for three years
and found thaton his attempted returnmost jobs required
a good first degree in a relevant discipline. He started working
for free for a small company and began an undergraduate degree
with the OU. His study was not funded by any employer.
Three years later, he has a first class BSc
(Hons) in Physical Science. He said: "I'm now far more employable
and have extra skills to show in the marketplace".
He adds that were his postgraduate diploma to
preclude him from being funded at an institutional level (leading
to higher fees being charged), he could not have afforded to study
for his degree.
Studying in the evening was the only option
for this student who was 30 when she started at Birkbeck.
"It made the whole process financially
viable", said this particular student, who gained a Psychology
BSc in 1986. "I wouldn't have contemplated giving up work
as a teacher to do a full-time second degree. Finding the fees
was manageable, but I would have struggled to complete the degree
if the fees were much higher. As it was, I was in a position to
take a few weeks' unpaid leave during finals".
Having already obtained a degree in Philosophy,
the student enrolled at Birkbeck with a career change in mind,
but also because of a genuine interest in the subject. Since her
undergraduate course at Birkbeck, the student has qualified as
a clinical psychologist and family therapist.
"Studying at Birkbeck has given me terrific
opportunities. I now have a fascinating job seeing children and
families, engaging in clinical research and training postgraduate
Growing areas of the economies
Studying for a first degree in electronics and
mathematic and nearing completion, this student realised he had
a better chance of being employed and of achieving career success
in the financial sector, for which the electronics part of his
first degree was not relevant.
He began a second bachelor's degreein
economics and mathematicswith the OU, partly in order to
help him stand out during the recruitment process. He currently
works full-time in customer services for the National Grid. While
he believes his study will help him to achieve his career goals,
he doubts his current employer would agree to part-funding his
He said: "I plan to change my career, and
the studies will in no way benefit my current employer, so there
would be no advantages to them if they were to fund it".
137 QAA Subject benchmark statements
Academic standards-Physics, astronomy and astrophysics
In view of the wide availability and popularity of MPhys and
MSci degrees in physics and their close link with the BSc degree,
these programmes are included in this statement. An MPhys or MSci
degree is awarded after an extended programme of integrated study,
to students who have achieved learning outcomes for a Masters
degree. MPhys or MSci degree programmes allow students to study
physics to a greater depth than is possible on a Bachelors course
and to extend the opportunities to develop their transferable
skills and undertake project work. These Masters degrees are classified
degrees that provide a coherent and broadly based education in
physics. They are to be distinguished from MSc programmes in physics,
which are self contained courses, normally involving one or two
years of postgraduate study in a specialist area and which are
not covered by this statement. Back