The Irresistible Decline of British Science

After the much reported decline of chemistry in the UK highlighted by, among others, Buckyball discoverer Sir Harry Kroto, it seems the decline had now spread to physics.

A new study from the University of Buckingham reports that numbers of ‘A’ Level physics students have halved in the last twenty years prompting everyone from the Confederation of British Industry to leading academics to point out the fundamental importance of physics to the UK economy.

While the UK has been very good at building nanoscaince facilities, setting up networks, promoting UK nanotechnologies overseas and encouraging public engagement, it all seems rather pointless unless the fundamental problems with science education are addressed. The UK has a centuries old tradition of scientific and engineering excellence and innovation, which should leave it ideally placed to profit from emerging technologies.

But is all the time an effort put into engaging non scientists in debates about things that may never come to pass, or setting up yet another network, meeting or information service is the best strategy? After all, academics and companies tend to function perfectly well without government interference.

While such initiatives are relatively cheap and grab a few headlines, We cannot help but wonder whether the money would not have been better spent on recruiting and training more science teachers, a longer term and more expensive strategy, but one which will yield far greater rewards in the long run.

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