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Greater ambition needed for science and engineering

It is great to see the Liberal Democrats recognising the integral role that a healthy science base plays in supporting and growing innovative businesses. Today’s announcement proposes continuing to ringfence the science budget throughout the next Parliament and is a welcome first step.

However, on its own, ringfencing the science budget will not be sufficient to foster the healthy and productive science base that the UK needs and that parties have stated they want to build. We are now entering a fifth year of a flat-cash settlement for the science budget at £4.6bn with another flat cash settlement agreed for 15-16. The cumulative erosion of the ringfenced science budget will be over £1.1bn from the beginning of 2010 spending review period up to 2015/16. Deflation will continue to affect the research budget every year that flat cash is maintained reducing the capacity and strength of our research base and missing out on the substantial growth opportunities that research suggests investing in science brings. To be most effective, commitment to the ringfence must also come alongside commitment to increasing total investment in science.

CaSE Assistant Director Naomi Weir said:

“We are now in a position where the UK is investing in science at a lower rate than the majority of the EU and the OECD and it may not be possible to sustain its position as a world-leading research nation. Greater efficiency can only go so far. If we’re serious about science, and want to reap the benefits of a healthy science and engineering sector we need to invest.

CaSE wants to see Parties committing to setting out a ten year framework for investment in science and engineering on an upward trajectory that AT LEAST matches growth.”

CaSE will be writing to each of the party leaders in the Autumn setting out the actions, developed in consultation with our members and collaborators, that we want to see reflected in Political Party commitments and taken in the next term of Parliament.

 

Notes:

See the CaSE 2014 Budget briefing for further analysis of the Science Budget.

Data for the graph are from R and D funding and specialisation, in OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013: Innovation for Growth, OECD, 2013

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CaSE responds to 2014 GCSE Results

This year sees many changes to the GCSE system including the addition of the Further Additional Science qualification and changes to school accountability measures driving behaviour change. The changes make it difficult to unpick precisely what today’s results mean for science. Equally, the figures out today highlight the increasingly complex nature of the options for studying science facing schools, teachers and students.

What we do know is that there are significant changes in the way in which young people are taking science at GCSE.

  • Number of entries for 15 year olds taking Science has dropped by over a third (35%/109k) driven by changes to school accountability measures whereby the first result a student gets for any exam is counted towards the school performance league tables
  • Major reductions to the number of entries for 16 year olds to Biology (-18%), Chemistry (-6%) and Physics (-14%)
  • 21k students took Further Additional Science creating an alternative triple science route
  • Entries for Science and Additional Science have gone up 24% and 16% respectively
  • The total number of entries for 16 year olds taking science (of all forms) has stayed relatively stable (up 0.7%/6k) despite the overall cohort size reducing 2.1%

The historic trend of significantly above average results for those that do take Biology, Chemistry and Physics separately continues (around 14% achieve A* compared to an average of 7% across all subjects). This suggests that schools continue to only put the highest achieving students into the triple sciences.

 

The majority of students take Science and Additional Science with 21,000 this year also taking Further Additional Science. Taking all three of these qualifications is an alternative route that covers the same content as ‘triple science’. The grade profile for Further Additional Science shows slightly lower proportions achieving A*s (11%) than separate sciences, although still well above the average for all subjects of 7%. This suggests that the new qualification could be a welcome way of opening up triple sciences to a wider range of students. The Campaign for Science and Engineering believes that a good quality science education should be available to all young people and include the option to study triple science, by either route, at GCSE.

Computing GCSE, as with A-level, has seen a large increase in uptake from 4,000 to 16,000, but again males make up over 85% of entrants.

CaSE Assistant Director Naomi Weir said:

“Congratulations to all young people receiving their GCSE results today. Science and maths provide a great grounding for all sorts of careers, from becoming a scientist or engineer to marketing, finance or starting a business. Whether it’s a love of being inquisitive, solving problems or exploring the world around us, we encourage all students to continue and enjoy studying science at A-level and beyond.

We want to see all schools offering high quality options for studying Biology, Chemistry and Physics to all young people up to 16. That will require sufficient resources for labs and practicals, specialist teachers with up-to-date subject knowledge and some stability in the system. We want to see stability that enables teachers to focus on equipping our young people to explore the micro and macro wonders of the natural world rather than navigating complex new system changes.”

 

Notes:

The JCQ data for the 2013 GCSE results can be found here

CaSE’s response to last year’s A-level results can be found here

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Rise of science and maths – CaSE responds to 2014 A-level results

Rising popularity of science and maths

Today’s A-level results show the continued rise in popularity of science and maths subjects at A-level. Maths continues its extraordinary rise to overtake English as the highest entry subject with 10.7% of the total A-level entry. Biology retains its position in third place with 7.7% of total entry. Chemistry assumes its highest ranking over the period 2002-2014 to take fifth place. Physics regains a 2002 high of 4.4% after a dip in popularity in the mid-2000s.


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Inspiring the next generation of female engineers

The QEPrize is a global £1 million pound prize that rewards and celebrates the engineers responsible for an innovation that has been of global impact on humanity.

The inaugural prize was awarded to the five engineers who made seminal contributions to the creation and proliferation of the Internet and World Wide Web: Louis Pouzin, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen. As nominations have now closed, we are working on inspiring young people, especially girls, to become engineers. Read More »

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SET stats – a timely R&D health-check

In all of the excitement of a major reshuffle, it would have been easy to miss that the ONS published the Government Expenditure on Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) for 2012-13 this week. Read More »

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What might the reshuffle mean for science and engineering?

In this Government’s most widespread reshuffle to date we’ve seen multiple changes to people and portfolios that will impact on science and engineering. Read More »

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Addressing the Gender Balance in Northern Ireland

The STEM Business group in Northern Ireland recently launched a report called ‘Addressing Gender Balance- Reaping the Gender Dividend in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths’. Read More »

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Changes to ‘Exceptional Talent’ visas

On Tuesday a new accelerated visa endorsement process for researchers who have been awarded senior and intermediate-level fellowships was announced. Read More »

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The Medical Research Pledge

On Tuesday leading UK medical research charities and organisations launched a campaign to ask British MEP candidates to pledge their support for medical research ahead of the elections in May.

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Beautiful science

Last month saw the opening of an interesting new exhibition at the British Library: “Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight”.

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Running for Nick

Many of you in the science policy community will know that last year Nick Dusic, a former Director of CaSE, died of a rare cancer called Burkitt’s Lymphoma at just 34.

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UK science and growth: doing more with the same

Sharing scientific kit is not primarily about cutting costs but is giving universities and their business partners access to state-of-the-art research equipment.

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Putting learned societies at the centre of the ‘policy community’

2013 marked the 30th anniversaries of the first significant number of AIDS cases reported in Britain, and the UK’s first scientific meeting on what was then a terrifying new disease. Read More »

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How to meet demand for engineering skills

Engineering drives UK economic growth and lies at the heart of our quality of life. From advances in prosthetics, to developing the next ‘big thing’ in electronics, engineers contribute £481 billion to the UK economy, working in every sector imaginable. Read More »

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Inspiring the next generation of engineers


Engineering cannot be taught successfully without an industrial and research context.

If UK higher education is to deliver the quality and quantity of engineering graduates the country needs (and the numbers were demonstrated again last week in Engineering UK’s 2014 report on the State of Engineering), the funding of science and engineering needs a long term cross-party commitment. Read More »

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Raising the profile of science in the Northern Ireland Assembly

All-Party Group on Science and Technology

The formation of the Northern Ireland Assembly All-Party Group on Science and Technology, in February 2012, heralded the start of a new and developing relationship between the science and engineering community in Northern Ireland, Members of the Assembly (MLAs), and the Executive.

The All-Party Group (APG) is chaired by Basil McCrea MLA and managed by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the world’s leading chemistry community. It meets three times a year with the principle objective of bringing together MLAs and others with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Northern Ireland. Read More »

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CaSE cross-party debate summary

In October, CaSE brought together the science spokespeople from each of the main political parties to debate the future direction of science and engineering in the UK. The event, kindly hosted by the Royal Society and chaired by Pallab Ghosh, gave us the opportunity to hear from each party on issues ranging from the use of scientific advice in Government through to research funding and matters around diversity in science and engineering. Read More »

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CaSE at the 2013 Party Conferences

Round-up by CaSE Director Dr Sarah Main

It’s time to draw breath after a busy conference season. The Campaign for Science and Engineering was represented at all three major party conferences in Glasgow, Brighton and Manchester this Autumn.

One long-time observer commented to me that there were more scientific fringe events at party conferences than ever before and that they were increasingly well attended. This must be good news for all of us and particularly for CaSE in its mission to raise the political profile of science and engineering. Read More »

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Credibility Across Cultures

At a time when scientific authority is both in high demand and hotly contested, the relationships between science advice, evidence, expertise and policy have been magnified by debates over what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals. Read More »

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Inspiring girls to take up STEM

Once again, this year’s A level and GCSE results show that girls are good at science. Of those that took STEM subjects, girls were more likely than boys to get a top grade. The challenge is to get more girls to choose science, maths and technology – especially when they make choices at 16, in order to increase the pipeline of female talent entering the STEM workforce. Read More »

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