Questions, questions, questions

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

The questions over the future of science continues… And they weren’t exactly answered at the recent Science Question Time at the Royal Institution I went to. More and more rear their ugly heads every day, and every answer just leads to more questions. So actually quite a lot like science itself.

The discussion started with heaps of praise for David Willetts and the comparative success of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. Colin Blakemore commented that he was sure Willetts had caught the infectious, unstoppable science bug. To which he pleaded guilty as charged. I won’t labour the points each person made, as there’s plenty of good discussions, posts and the Twitter feed from the night about what was said in plenty of detail. But what I will talk about are some of the issues that I think are pretty important to science at the moment.

The first being what effects cuts in other areas will have on the scientific community – museums are facing a 15% cut and, as I mentioned in my last post, universities are not only facing a massive cut, but also a massive hike in tuition fees following the Browne review.

Ah, the Browne review – having massive impacts all over the show. With different fees for different courses, and science being a very expensive course, should we expect fewer students choosing sciences for degree subjects? Janet Finch (co-chair for Council of Science and Technology) was concerned that social sciences had been overlooked, and that they were in serious danger. They have a powerful role to play, and the skills base is essential to ongoing research. David Willetts (Minister for Universities and Science) and Philip Greenish (Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineers) thought the effects of the review would be far less. Willetts commented that the proposed models wouldn’t necessarily cost individual students more, and Greenish believes that it could be a positive move forward – that students will choose degrees based on their future outcomes and job potentials and this will encourage more to consider STEM subjects. He was very keen to point out that we need to focus on careers guidance, and a good support structure for potential talent. I’ll give them that. The careers guidance I got left a lot to be desired to be honest! But I think I’ll remain slightly sceptical about it being a ‘positive thing’ for now…

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