Talk to anyone in the scientific world and they will tell you that one of their major concerns is the dearth of young people coming out of schools, colleges and universities having studied science and technology.
In many countries, employers, many of them in the chemicals sector, are finding it difficult to recruit the talented young people that they need to secure the future of their companies.
Governments and educational institutions are aware of the problem and recent years have seen them increasing their efforts to turn the situation around.
The UK is a good example of public and private sector working together. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths ) are widely acknowledged as crucial to the UK’s success but that continuing success relies on the next generation of new talent.
Official figures show that, while the UK is the world’s sixth largest manufacturer with an engineering turnover of £800 billion per year, it makes up only 1% of the world’s population yet produces 10% of the world’s top scientific research.
The problem is that the number of young people who see STEM subjects as a viable career path to pursue that research remains relatively low even though STEM graduates have the potential to earn amongst the highest salaries of all new recruits.
The UK Government has long identified STEM education as a major challenge and its response has been two-pronged.
The first one is about bringing through more subject teachers skilled enough to enthuse young people to stick with the subject as they make their school and higher education level choices.
Indeed, in 2007 the McKinsey report, ‘How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top‘, compared successful education systems from across the world to identify the factors most likely to provide the best provision.
The key finding was: “Above all, the top performing systems demonstrate that quality of an education system depends ultimately on the quality of its teachers.“
To that end, education officials worldwide have embarked on major education programmes to persuade new teachers to embrace STEM subjects, promoting the opportunities as early in the education process as possible.
Such approaches seem to be working because more students are taking A levels in STEM subjects, according to results published by the UK-based Joint Council for Qualifications.
Since June 2010, entries in subjects like maths and the sciences have risen across the board with:
• biology up 10.7%
• chemistry up 21.5%
• physics up 18.5%
• maths up 15.3%
• further maths up 20.1%
The results also showed that since 2010 more women are taking exams in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects with A level entries rising in:
• maths: up by 10%
• physics: up by 16%
• chemistry: up by 23%
• biology: up by 16%
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “I want all young people to leave school having had the best preparation for life in modern Britain.
“We are reforming exams to equip students with the skills to succeed in a modern workplace helping them and the country compete in a global economy.
“That’s why I’m delighted to see more students, especially young women, studying maths and sciences and teachers having more time to push pupils to achieve the very top grades. This will help them secure the top jobs, regardless of their background, and secure a brighter future.”
“I want all young people to leave school having had the best preparation for life in modern Britain. We are reforming exams to equip students with the skills to succeed in a modern workplace helping them and the country compete in a global economy.” – Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary