Students shun science degrees?

Students shun science degrees?

Summary: Why are students turning away from science-based courses?

TOPICS: Tech Industry

STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is in slow decline across the West -- resulting in a number of schemes, such as specialty STEM schools for high school students, expanding in an attempt to rectify the shortage of skilled workers.

According to a new report within the Australian ICT Statistical Compendium for 2011, the number of students studying sciences such as chemistry, physics and mathematics remains within the grip of unpopularity.

The report, commissioned by Australia's Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, states it is not simply a shortage, but rather voluntary enrollment has flatlined in relation to sector-wide growth.

Analysing university figures concerning scientific enrollment between 2002 and 2010, the report offers little comfort for the future of scientific fields in Australia for the future. The author of the report, Dr. Ian Dobson, believes the gradual decline shifted into a flatlining scenario after a dramatic drop in science graduates in the 1990s. Dr Dobson said:

'"It has just flatlined and it's not good enough. Technology doesn't come from having more nurses or more accountants and that's effectively what the sector is producing. But we need more technologists."

The report, Unhealthy Science?, also found that the rate of growth in science courses has only increased 30 percent, lower than the average of 33 percent across all disciplines. However, this figure in reality is not representative, as less than half who choose to undertake a bachelor of science degree continue studies in the field after their first year at university.

National enrollments for STEM subjects have been slashed in half from a decade ago, and as a further blow, a paltry 3 percent of graduates in Australia are choosing to undertake full IT courses.

These 'enabling science' skills gaps are of increasing concern to Australia -- as much of the industry infrastructure is based around Australia's competitive abilities in a knowledge economy. These sciences are critical to the public interest, and yet the majority of science graduates only study them in their first year.

Those that do take on a science degree have made biology the main discipline (33 percent), followed by chemistry and mathematics (10 percent each), with physics trailing in last (4 to 5 percent).

Over the last decade, IT subscription has fell by an incredible 34.5 percent.

Image credit: Argonne National Laboratory


Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Is it surprising ?

    Young people in the west have been brought up to assume that life will be easy.

    Engineering and Science qualifications require more work to achieve a creditable standard. This "unnecessary work" is expected to bring no greater reward in terms of finance or social standing than a "soft subject".

    The only reward is personal fulfilment, which a young student is often not in a position to appreciate.

    If people ask - "why bother ?" - You can be pretty sure they have it too easy, or the rewards for the "bother" are too few.
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  • Follow Adam Smith

    In the US, many of us tout the "invisible hand" of the free market where acting in your own self-interest drives the best outcome for all. Isn't this the same situation? If I decide I can have a "good enough" life here getting a business degree, why should I work so much harder for a math degree? Am I supposed to decide to work in science for some "greater good"?

    Now that doesn't mean that I'm right in my analysis. I might be shocked one day to find engineers and scientists are in high demand and business majors working at McDonald's. Maybe I'll regret my choice. But it's mine to make.

    Of course, in other countries, getting a math or science degree might be the only sure way out of a life of poverty. So there, of course, they are more motivated to pursue these tough subjects.

    Hmm, maybe we do have it easy here....
  • Do the math.

    Get an MBA and work for an investment bank, take home millions per year in salary and bonuses. Get a master's in IT and work for less than a hundred grand and no bonuses. Until your job gets eliminated and shipped to India, that is.

    Is there any wonder? Companies pay execs with business degrees all out of proportion to any professional employees up to and including PhD levels. The market is just reacting to actual demand, not disingenuous statements from management.
    terry flores
    • Exactly

      Why know a lot, get paid "peanuts" and be held responsible when things go wrong, when you can know nothing, get paid millions and have no culpability when things go wrong?
    • And what's the market for financial employees these days?

      Company execs with a strong math/science/engineering background are in high demand, maths and problem solving a big component of the job.

      However even business degrees aren't what they once were. I've recently graduated Masters Commerce (finance and Accounting) - the level of maths required was embarrassing and even then fellow students were complaining. Looking at the MBA program I wonder why anyone wastes their time.

      The basic problem is science and maths is challenging, it requires a talented teacher early to get students interested and comfortable with the basics. It also requires a discipline that is unattractive to western students. Given the freedom granted them they choose other easier subjects.

      The smaller pool of science graduates limits the pool of science teachers, continuing the downward spiral.

      (oh many in investment banking have a science/maths background).
      Richard Flude
    • Reach for the stars

      [ul][i]Get an MBA and work for an investment bank, take home millions per year in salary and bonuses. [/i][/ul]Yeah, right. As career advice, that's right up there with "learn to play basketball, get drafted by the NBA, and sign a contract for $20 million." Or maybe, "Go to Hollywood, take a job as a waitress, get discovered, and land the leading role in a James Bond film."

      Stop believing everything you read.
      Robert Hahn
  • All this and more

    Governments say they want STEM people and indeed graduates. However, considering that they want them to work for the same effective price of the proverbial "Happy Meal" as well as no job security (outsourcing, complete obliviousness to the need to keep your workers upskilled, stuff like that) and being as valued as a used "Happy Meal" it's not surprising people largely don't believe them.

    As an example, consider all these graduates who got suckered into teaching "for the future" that are now being pilloried, officially hated and laid off in quite staggering numbers and having to work under conditions akin to slavery if they keep their job.

    Why should people believe anything a government says when their actions are the exact opposite.

    Yes, STEM degrees are real work. I can attest to that as a Biochemistry major, I couldn't believe how laughably easy the filler courses were in subjects outside the main STEM courses. If the government was serious about it, rather than just talking worried, a good start IMHO would be to eliminate public funding of all "filler" majors. But that will NEVER happen because we have to offer something up to the masses that make up the student body, and taxpaying/voting parents of such, many of whom could never even pass the introductory courses that would lead to a STEM degree.
  • Off we go, into the sunset

    No one in any Western country is permitted to discuss the actual reason that this is happening. But no matter, other countries that have so far not adopted the same Giant Mistake are taking up the slack and will soon be the new fountains of innovation and technological progress. The world doesn't need us.

    It's becoming increasingly clear that Nature really, really doesn't like The Giant Mistake, and has several mechanisms by which it quietly rids the world of cultures that make it.
    Robert Hahn