Universities pin hopes on combined sciences

A CRISIS in the recruitment of science undergraduates to universities could be solved by changes at GCSE level, the Association for Science Education said last night writes Fran Abrams.

Results published today show that the number of pupils taking physics, biology and chemistry as separate subjects at GCSE has fallen by more than 70 per cent since 1988. They have usually been replaced by combined science, which counts as a double subject and covers all three disciplines. Science educators argue that the change will reverse a trend for girls to drop physics at 14 and boys to drop biology. More pupils will take up science A-level courses as a result, they say, and many will go on to science degree courses. This year, almost 10 times more pupils took combined science GCSEs than single-subject sciences, with almost 600,000 taking the joint course and 60,000 taking chemistry and physics. Biology had 90,000 entries.

David Moore, general secretary of the Association for Science Education, welcomed the change. He said that his organisation encouraged pupils to take all three sciences up to 16, but recognised many would not be able to do so under the national curriculum. It was better for them to keep their options open than to drop one or more of the subjects, he added.

The association had undertaken a study to find out whether pupils with a combined science GCSE were adequately prepared for A- level work and it had concluded that they would not experience problems, he said.

This year's A-level results showed a further decline in the number of students taking sciences, and most universities have found it hard to fill their places. 'We really must persuade people that science and engineering are worthwhile careers and that employers are paying decent salaries to graduates in these areas. We must be dedicated to making science as exciting as possible,' Mr Moore said.