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Over 40 years ago, CP Snow wrote his famous essay about the two cultures. He complained that somebody could not be called civilised if he did not know the works of Shakespeare, but he could if he did not understand the second law of thermodynamics. I partly disagree with that because I do not think it is essential that people should know the second law of thermodynamics, but I do think it is essential that people should have some idea of how science works. They should understand the importance of the evidence-based approach and the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. There are examples of the ignorance about this all around us. Not long ago, I heard one of the most intelligent presenters of the Today programmeand they are all extremely intelligenttalk to a scientist and say, You believe that. He had to be pulled up and it had to be explained that scientists do not base their opinions on beliefone belief among many systems of beliefbut on the evidence. Later on, in the course of an interview on food additives after a study suggested that they have carcinogenic effects, the same interviewer said, Do you not accept that it is now beyond doubt that these additives have a deleterious effect?. He should have been pulled up on that because the idea that scientific knowledge establishes facts beyond doubt is totally ignorant of the way in which science works. There are very few hypotheses that can be regarded as facts. It is true that some become so well established that they are accepted as facts. We accept as facts that the Earth goes round the Sun, the laws of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics. I would go further and say that evolution is no longer a hypothesis; it is so well established that it no longer has the status of just one of many hypotheses.
Unfortunately, there are other, much more serious signs that we do not necessarily accept and understand the basis of science. Many of the
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When you place your trust in a proponent of Ayurveda, you are also placing your trust in someone who likely claims to be able to levitate, read minds, foretell the future, reduce crime and end war through meditation, or heal with chanting, cow dung and spit.
Courses in Ayurveda are offered to qualify for a degree in scienceso-called science.
Let us consider homoeopathy. The doctor of homoeopathy says that the more you dilute a substance, the more effective it becomes. When a substance is diluted, as is common, to the extent of 10 to the power of 30, nothing of the original substance is left. If you really argue that this can have a scientific effect, other than as a placebo, that is simply a belief in miracles. I know that a lot of people swear by it, but a lot of people used to swear by witchcraft and a lot of people swear by astrology. Why not have courses in astrology? Indeed, one eminent university has established a chair for the paranormal.
Representations made to the vice-chancellor have been ignored. These courses are justified and are said to be based on rigorous testing. What is the UUK doing about that? I hope that the chief executive of the UUK will look at that and take universities to task who offer pseudo-science and pretend that it is a degree in science. What is the Quality Assurance Agency doing about that, if it has any function whatever? Representations to it have been ignored or the indefensible has been defended.
In some respects, the Government are not much better in their support for a rigorous scientific approach. At a time when there is an enormous shortage of funds for the National Health Service, it still finances homoeopathic treatment, which cannot be shown to be effective, except as a placebo. The NHRA recently allowed efficacy to be claimed for homoeopathic products simply on the basis of homoeopathic provings, totally disregarding the whole scientific base that it ought to be supporting.
Indeed, the Government still provide subsidy for conversion to organic farming, which is based on the totally untenable proposition that, somehow, synthetic chemicals are bad and natural chemicals are good. There is no scientific basis for that whatever. The director of the Soil Association, giving evidence to one committee of this House some years ago, explained that the merits of organic farming, which could not be proved scientifically, were beyond the present state of science to detect.
It is very important, therefore, that we should institute some recognition of what science is about and that our education system should recognise the importance of instilling at least some knowledge of
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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. There is a particular urgency in getting right the teaching of mathematics and technology if we are to enable future generations to compete in the emerging global market economy. I know that the noble Lord takes these issues very seriously, not least as a major employer in his own right, but also in his other role as chancellor of Thames Valley University.
I open my remarks on a consensual note this afternoon, although I do not intend to address the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. I believe that all the main political parties see the need to raise the status of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects, as we have come to call them, in our society now. As noble Lords will know, the Government have committed themselves to the 10-year science and innovation framework and to the outcomes of the Sainsbury review about which I will say something a little later. I am pleased to see that the Conservative Party has created a STEM task force as part of its economic competitiveness review, which aims to use science to enhance the prospects of the UK becoming Europe's world-leading knowledge-based economy.
The Liberal Democrats have also shown how seriously they take these issues by establishing a sub-group on science and research as part of their higher and further education review. As part of this backdrop, universities have welcomed the Government's focus on improving the supply of people with STEM skills, as outlined in their recent science and innovation framework document Next Steps.
The Race to the Top, the report of the review conducted for the Treasury by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, whom I am delighted to see in his place today, was published last week. Its principal conclusion was that, although there is a reasonable supply of STEM graduates in the economy, there are potential problems ahead. For example, there are difficultiesthese have been alluded to by almost all the speakers in the debatein maintaining appropriate levels of demand in schools. Action is needed to ensure that the growing need for these skills in the UK economy is met. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this is an area where our international competitors, China and India, are producing more graduates per year than all the European Union states combined. A significant proportion of those will be armed with qualifications in science, mathematics and information technology subjects.
Universities UKI declare an interest as its chief executivehas endorsed the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, that there should be a major campaign to enhance the teaching of science and technology in schools by addressing these STEM issues. We welcome the plan to increase the number of qualified teachers. After all, universities play a vital
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These actions in our schools and colleges will complement the measures taken by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to increase demand and maintain supply in strategic subjects in the higher education sector. The funding council has given substantial support, in collaboration with the learned societies and professional bodies, for pilot projects to stimulate student demand in physics, chemistry, mathematics and computer science. The chemistry project, for example, is a pilot that promotes the excitement of chemistry and the chemical sciences as a subject. It also aims to demonstrate the good career opportunities that exist in these subjects to those groups in schools and colleges who are under represented in higher education. It is operating in three regions; the East Midlands, the north-west and London, but a full national rollout is anticipated. Activities have included hands-on access to modern laboratories, demonstration lectures and taster days for potential higher education students. These measures will inevitably take time to have an effect on student demand and the funding council has provided some additional funding in the very high-cost science subjects to maintain provision in the mean time.
One measure that Universities UK itself has taken to promote the science and research agenda is the publication of Eureka UK, and I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to it. It is a very colourful book, which highlights 100 major discoveries, developments and inventions made in UK universities during the past 50 years; namely, the ones that have had a major impact on the world. It was designed not only to promote the achievements of our researchers in our universities, but also to create a positive perception of science among all young people and to encourage the possibility of taking up a career in science. To that end, we sent the publication to all secondary schools in the United Kingdom.
Universities believe that these actions should be reinforced by effective co-ordination of the work of the two relevant departmentsthe Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. There is also a requirement for rationalisation and better integration of the various STEM initiatives within the education system. This includes the need for close working with schools, further education bodies and the Teacher Development Agency in order to produce the required result. We also believe that greater employer input is a necessity if further significant progress is to be made. The involvement of employers in the development and delivery of the STEM curriculum is absolutely essential.
The need to improve the level of career advice given to young people is an important recommendation of the review by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury. The noble Lords report refers to a number of actions that have recently been taken to improve young peoples awareness of the
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The group will also look at areas where industry foresees shortages of graduates arising. It will be important to avoid any notion of manpower planning, but as a foresight exercise it should provide a valuable resource, not least for universities. Of course, as autonomous institutions, they will need to be able to make the final decisions about the provision they make available in response to changing student demand.
The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, to strengthen the position of strategic subjects in schools can serve only to underpin demand in those subjects in universities and provide the skills that the modern economy needs. I have no hesitation in welcoming these proposals. They have the support of the universities and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, I congratulate him on introducing it so comprehensively, because it goes to the heart of our economic future. In the short time available I shall focus my remarks on the role of schools in educating girls and young women to play an equal role in society, in particular the influence of schools in encouraging girls and young women to pursue careers in science and maths. We are all aware that girls are now outperforming boys in exam results throughout their school years and make up the majority of university entrants. But evidence in the UK shows that detrimental stereotyping still has a major impact between the ages of 11 and 16.
I must declare an interest. As a former head girl of Wimbledon High School, I am fortunate enough to have enjoyed the benefits of a Girls Day School Trust education. I believe that a number of noble Baronesses in this House also had such benefits. I am now an associate of the Girls Day School Trust. My teachers were determined that my classmates and I would achieve in life all that we could and be able to take advantage of opportunities and choices that they never hadall in the face of bias and discrimination that, thankfully, is unimaginable today.
The fact that greater choice is embedded in GDST schools is reflected in the range of non-typical subjects selected for study by its pupils. These girls are more likely to choose subjects in which there are currently acute shortages of graduates when they go on to study at university. Leading UK industry organisations are concerned about the UKs lack of young people with the right skills and qualifications in sciences. Furthermore, national statistics show that girls not in GDST schools are getting a raw deal in school sciences, and that that carries on right through into higher education. For instance, if as high a proportion of girls in the country studied A-level chemistry as they do in GDST schools, there would be a total of 19,000 more female students studying this subject post-16. Similarly, if a large percentage of girls in the country studied A-level physics, there would be about 8,000 more female students studying it post-16. It is vital to kindle an interest in science early. It can lead to a lifelong passion that sees women enjoy interesting and challenging work in this field. It is an education that opens an almost infinite number of doors. The problem is that young girls at school, particularly as they leave the primary years, often just do not see it.
A recent survey of former students and current sixth-formers at GDST senior schools who had chosen to do science at A-level showed the importance of this encouragement of interest at a young age. When asked to choose two particular encouragements to study science at A-level, a third specifically mentioned the influence of their teachers and their schools. Among those who took science A-levels at school, 88 per cent went on to study science or a related subject at university, and over half went on to a career in science, of whom roughly two-thirds are still continuing in science. They do not drop off after leaving school, rather they are taking their scientific foundation on for the rest of their careers.
This non-stereotypical choice does not apply only to GDST schools. A recent cohort study by the Institute of Education found that women who went to girls schools were more likely than co-educated women to gain qualifications at university in subjects typically dominated by men. So the flame of passion for science and maths has to be lit early. Figures show that girls are more likely to take up hard sciences and maths in a single-sex environment. They know that they can do these subjects and they believe that they can be good in them, and when they learn that they are good, there is positive feedback. They are not put down by their peers.
A 1998 Ofsted summary of research on gender and educational performance showed that girls from same-sex schools were more likely to study maths or the physical sciences at A-level than those from co-educational schools. Also, studies show that girls perform better in hard sciences in the single-sex environment. This has been demonstrated in a study by the Department for Education and Skills which shows that A grades achieved at A-level in all-girl independent schools are 10 per cent higher than those for girls in co-educational independent schools. Reports also note that girls in same-sex schools stand
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Among first-year full-time degree students studying physics, only one in five is a woman, which is proportional to the number of female students taking physics at A-level. That clearly indicates that whatever discourages girls from doing physics has already taken place before the A-level choice was made, because the numbers are the same when carried on through. Research conducted by Andrew Stables in 1990 indicated that girls aged 13 to 14 in same-sex schools are more likely to express an interest in maths and science than their peers in co-educational schools.
Increasing the number of people studying science post-16 is seen as key and is a welcome initiative in the Governments action plan to tackle the shortage of specialist science teachers. In the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004 to 2014, the Government state that they aim to increase the number of physics A-level entries by 44 per cent and chemistry A-level by 11 per cent by 2014. These are indeed ambitious targets, and I hope that the Government and school inspectors do not underestimate the challenge for those teaching science in schools in areas of deprivation where home and peer pressures militate against taking these subjects as a route to an exciting and fulfilling future. After all, Doctor Who, that well-known Welsh personality on television, is a scientist. I just wish that there were more science programmes and more science heroes on the programmes that youngsters are watching.
I know that the Minister recently visited Belvedere school, which has just moved from being a fee-paying GDST school to becoming an academy. I hope he enjoyed the visit and that more and more pupils at that school will benefit from its strong traditions in music and in science.
If our pupils leave school with a grounding in science and maths they will be able to understand their world better. They will be able to understand risk assessments in health, manage their finances and understand how things around them work. They will then be better prepared to adapt to the rapidly changing world that they face. I know that the Minister has a deep commitment to improving education in science and maths and I, like many in this House, look forward to hearing his concluding remarks.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has introduced this enormously important debate.
I should like quickly to make two points. First, it is important that debates such as this one on science education should be based on a clear assessment of the position in our schools today, so that policy initiatives are directed at the right problems and not simply scattered around. The situation in our schools on A-levels is not too bad, with the major exception of A-level physics in which there has been a 20-year decline. However, the Government have already taken action in the past two years in this area, particularly
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The Government are beginning to make a real change in careers advice. That is important because children will understand the point of studying these subjects only if they see that they are critical for their future careers. In the report that I recently produced for the Prime Minister, we suggested further action in this area which should turn the situation around. Where action has been takenfor example, in further mathematicsthere has been a dramatic improvement in the situation. In 1996-97, fewer than 5,000 people were studying further mathematics. The numbers had dropped because the subject simply was not available in many schools. Now, however, it is available through an online system, and in the past year well over 6,500 people were studying further mathematics. So you can turn these situations around if you tackle the basic problems.
Secondly, perhaps I may indulge in a little marketing of the report that I produced for the Prime Minister which is entitled The Race to the Top. It covers in grim detail, in more than 100 pages, all these issues and gives facts and figures. It shows that, both on the educational side and in our countrys performance in innovation, we are much better than is commonly thought. Other countries go in for the denial of bad news; in England we particularly go in for the denial of good news. Our performance is rather better than we might think.
We are now at a point where we can realistically aspire to be a global leader in science and innovation, but we need to do more. There are some very simple and clear things that we need to do. If we do those things, we can be a global leader in science and innovation. We should put those initiatives in an ambitious framework and not spend all our time beating ourselves up on the basis that we are not doing very well. If you do that, if you make a bad assessment of a current position, it will lead to bad initiatives and discourage young people from coming into science and engineering. We need to show young people that, in todays society and economy, it is extremely exciting to be a scientist or engineer in the UK and that it can lead to rewarding and exciting jobs. That is the message that we need to convey to them.
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