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Graham Tasker M.B.C.S. C.I.T.P.

Considering that the top 10% of A level students go into the Law, Medicine, economics or related courses and most of the next 25% will do the same, there fore this idea will kill science and engineering once and for all in this country. These degrees are the most expensive to run and therefore would cost the most. Any student would not wish to saddle them selves with this cost and would do other cheaper degrees. The universities would respond to this by closing science and engineering courses.

Also the scholarships and loans are for ‘A’ level students only. I went to university with an OND in Technology, no A levels, so an entry path which has produced some of the best engineers will be closed off. (These students would not be able to pay the fees and support them selves).

Angelo Basu

It may be that that problem could be solved by Dr Lilico's suggestion "Scholarships and loans might potentially be restricted to approved courses". This would enable the government to decide to allocate scholarships and cheap loans only for those wishing to pursue subjects which were considered as a matter of policy to be desirable. I query however whether the level of planning and forecasting that this would need might not be a form of social engineering too far. There would doubtless also be huge controversy (particularly amongst less technocratic Tories?) as to why eg historians and classicists should not be valued by the state. From the other end of the political spectrum, there would also be a potential attack that such social engineering might serve to stigmatise science and engineering as "for poor students" and entrench a suggestion that the arts were for an elite who could afford to study them. I could live with that (after all, the point of Dr Lilico's article is to look at only providing state funding where it is in the state's interest and on these terms, why should the government care if media studies degrees are filled by the wealthy if it is providing poor students with the ability to do the most practical subjects which have the potential to be most productive for them in improving their economic positions?).

Perhaps this was not intended, but I read the reference to top A level students as being a shorthand for "top qualified applicants for university". If it is read this way it would be possible for a standardised admissions test of aptitude to be introduced which was independent of A level, access course, GNVQ, OND etc route of entry in order to sort out the order of merit of applicants. This may also be desirable to separate out the purpose of grading in those entry qualifications (to show how well those courses have been done in absolute terms) from a test to provide a relative score compared with any given entry cohort. Entrance to higher education would therefore be on the basis of separate tests for subject knowledge (A levels etc) and aptitude.

Graham Tasker M.B.C.S. C.I.T.P.

Testing for ability is not the best answer with science and engineering. During my days as a member of staff at a university I remember an engineering student who on his exam results would get a first class degree, killing himself because he wired a plug wrong. This practical skills were useless.

Angelo Basu

There's not much you can do about testing practical skill though. There are lots of people around who could safely wire a plug or indeed have the physical skill to operate even quite complex lab experiments but who would not be capable of completing a scientific degree.

It does suggest a flaw in the whole approach to higher education in recent years to move away from the practical/academic split that the Polytechnic/University system had. If such a split were to be reintroduced it would be possible to have different criteria for entry to each side.

Graham Tasker M.B.C.S. C.I.T.P.

I would agree on the University / Polytechnic split, one of the biggest disasters to hit higher education was the conversion of polytechnics to universities. Also the chance killed of the progression path of OND to HND to Degree, taken by many engineers.

One of the biggest problem with the UK is to see science and engineering as a ‘Practical’ subject, any one who has done these subject knows that you require ‘academic’ rigger. (This is why many engineering students do a 36 hour week of lectures and practical), This rigger is often of a higher high quality than that required for an equilveant Arts degree, (Another resion that students do arts degree.). In my own disipline “Safety Critical Software” the room for error is very small, thus I require both practical/academic expertise. Get it wrong, I could wipe out a town or worse (A reactor blows up or a plain crashes). A far greater responsibility than most accountants carry and they get paid three or four times more. (Another reason not

Angelo Basu

I agree that engineering in particular is a practical subject, as are applied sciences. However, part of the dumbing down of the sciences and maths at school level has been to go too far this way in stressing ONLY the practical side in order to make the subject "relevant" and this can have the effect of losing the rigour needed to be able to do scientific study and work in practice. The move towards making arts subjects be examined by box ticking (ie making sure that the right phrases to fit a mark scheme are in a piece of work rather than looking to develop the ability to build an argument and analysis) is also stripping the Arts of their rigour.

The loss of rigour generally in education hinders both theoretical and practical understanding- if you don't have a rigorous theoretical intellectual framework you can't do the practical side other than at a very high level. Fine for producing Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss, useless for producing anyone who can actually do anything whether scientific, business or artistic (eg the Tracey Emins and Damien Hursts are perfectly accomplished traditional Fine Artists and had to be before they could validly choose to do conceptual work).

Mike Christie

Until secondary education is sorted out then all this funding scheme would do would be to give free rides through university to a massively disporportionate number of private school pupils.

The secondary school system needs a radical overhaul, only when differences in pupils' socio-economic backgrounds have much less impact on their results than present could we possibly determine financial support through university on A level results.

Social mobility in this country is already at a low point, this funding idea could make it far worse.

Also, the decline in science graduates has its roots at age 14, when children choose GCSE subjects, if by then they do not have a scientific inclination then they won't study at GCSE, then hence not A level or onwards. The bright children who will go on to get good degrees are, by definition, not stupid. They are choosing subjects that they think will get them into the jobs they want to do, and the jobs they think will be well-paid.

The engineering and science communities need to do what they can to publicise the less glamourous and less visible opportunities in those areas into schools at an early age.

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