Letter: Reasons for the short supply of science students

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The Independent Online
Sir: Nobody will disagree with your view (leading article, 21 August) that more should be done to make science subjects interesting to prospective students. May I, however, as a historian and university lecturer, offer two caveats?

First, there will always be people who are stimulated by the humanities rather than the sciences, and the Government's strategy of using scarcity to force them in a direction for which they are unsuited does not make sense. Indeed, the 18-year-old who opts for science may become the young adult whose career never uses the training. Need I mention the example of Margaret Thatcher?

Second, it is time not simply to scrap the prejudice against science but also to eradicate the assumption that there is something self-indulgent about studying the humanities and social sciences. My colleagues are committed to teaching students to understand how cultures shape people, how societies operate, how problems arise and decisions are made. We try to use tutorial groups to develop students' ability to express their own opinions while responding to the viewpoints of others. In written work, we aim to encourage a command of English sufficient to communicate ideas, describe problems and expound solutions.

All these are skills vital to a modern society. The A-level results bring home the tragedy of the Government's blunder in cutting back on arts places. The money that should have been invested in tuition fees will now be squandered on dole queues. The human waste will be far greater.

Yours sincerely,

GED MARTIN

Edinburgh

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