Students shun science degrees?

Why are students turning away from science-based courses?

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



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