Chinese and Indian pupils 'most likely to pick science'

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The Independent Online

Pupils of Chinese and Indian origin are the most likely to study for a science degree at university, research published today shows.

The research also indicates that students from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds prefer business or the law, while those with a black Caribbean background are more likely to favour a course in the arts or a humanities subject. They are also more likely to stay at home and study at one of the newer universities, former polytechnics. Medicine is most likely to attract students from the Asian communities.

These are the findings of the most detailed research into the university options pursued by Britain's different ethnic groups, published jointly by the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics. "Indian and Chinese students show a strong preference for science at A-level compared to other ethnic groups," the report says. "In contrast, black Caribbean students reveal a strong aversion to both physics and chemistry - even at an early stage. There is a significant attrition of numbers of black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students at the first hurdle - GCSE to A-levels - often even before students have the chance to specialise."

The figures show that significantly higher proportions of pupils of Chinese and Indian origin pass a science A-level than the white population. This holds good for both boys and girls, although young Chinese males are three times as likely to study science as young white males - and Indian boys twice as likely.

Indian students are three times as likely and Chinese males four times as likely to achieve three or more science A-levels. The figures are similar for girls.

When it comes to higher education, Indian and Chinese students are still more likely to opt for chemistry than white students; Indians twice as likely and Chinese three times so. In physics, though, only the Chinese have a higher take-up than whites.

The report acknowledges that one of the reasons for the poor take-up of science by black Caribbean pupils is their lower attainment levels in the first place. "It is worth noting," it adds, "that groups such as black Caribbean and black African students are most likely to attend a post-1992 university (former polytechnic) where chemistry and physics courses are relatively rare."

Sean McWhinnie, of the Royal Society of Chemists, speculated that one of the reasons for the higher concentration of black Caribbean students in newer universities could be that they stayed at home during their studies because they came from poorer communities. The report adds that even when black Caribbean youngsters have opted to take a science degree, they are likely to fare worse at university than white students.

It concludes: "Ethnic minority students tend to be under-represented generally, relative to their white counterparts, in what might be considered to be the traditional subject areas of science."

Dr McWhinnie said the results of the research would be sent to ministers.