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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Smith, E. & Gorard, S. (2011). Is there a shortage of scientists? A re-analysis of supply for the UK. British Journal of Educational Studies 59(2): 159-177.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Despite a recent economic downturn, there is considerable political and industry pressure to retain or even increase the number of scientists in the UK and other developed countries. Claims are made that the supply of scientists (including engineers and mathematicians) is crucial to the economy and the health of the nation, and a large number of initiatives have been funded to address the problem. We consider these claims in light of a re-analysis of existing figures from 1986 to 2009, for young scientists passing through education and into employment. Science graduates are heavily stratified by social origin, and this sorting takes place during initial schooling just as it does with other ‘prestige’ subjects. The majority of science graduates then move into initial occupations that are not directly related to their degree, suggesting that at this stage of life at least, the demand for scientists trained in specific areas is more than met by existing numbers. We have no reason to believe that the situation is different to other vocational and non-vocational subjects, so perhaps science is not as special as politicians and business leaders imagine. Perhaps young people are put off careers in science by their education. Or perhaps the incentives are not right, leading to the ‘wrong’ kinds of students in science, and so wastage and inefficiency in the supply process. More pertinently, perhaps this vocational outcome is not how a developed country should assess the value and importance of scientific knowledge among its population.

School of Education