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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
New science course for generalists
A university has devised new, job-oriented "integrated science" degrees, to try to reverse the dwindling interest in science education.

The University of Leicester says its three-year BSc and four-year MSci courses are designed for students who may not want to pursue academic research but are attracted by more general roles such as research and development, teaching or science-related management, marketing or media work.

It says the programmes offer "a potent mix of scientific knowledge and transferable people skills".

Modules are taught by problem-based learning in groups.

Team work

For example, students might look at the construction and significance of Stonehenge.

Among the skills they would need are physics, archaeology, astronomy and maths to explore why, when and how it was built and the controversies surrounding its use.

bunsen burner in classroom
The Planet Science project in schools is being wound up

Leicester says students will not necessarily all have to work on each aspect of the problem, but will build on their strengths and interests.

Leicester is calling this "i-science". Its director, Dr Derek Raine, said it offered "a realistic training for graduate-level employment".

"At the moment companies may prefer to recruit management trainees, for instance, from arts graduates because they have been taught the relevant skills of presentation and communication.

"One of our aims is to give that level of skill to graduates with a science background. We want graduates who are both numerate and literate."

The first courses are due to begin in September 2004. Prospective students will need at least one science subject in their AS and A-levels, plus GCSE maths.

Science teaching

Meanwhile a scheme which aimed to promote science learning in schools is about to be formally wound up.

Planet Science, the successor to Science Year, will however continue in a number of "legacy" programmes including web-based resources.

Its director has been Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of England's schools and now government qualifications troubleshooter.

Planet Science's vision was "for young people and their key influencers to engage with science and recognise it as a creative, inclusive and representative field of study that offers exciting rewards and diverse career opportunities".

Mr Tomlinson thinks it has done "pretty well" in meeting that aim.

The vast majority are not interested and the real trick is to find ways of interesting them
Mike Tomlinson

He is enthusiastic about the popularisation of science subjects, for instance among 13-year-old girls via a magazine column.

"We find you can communicate the excitement of science if you stop offering it in a boring, dull, stiffish sort of way," he said.

"It's what they are being taught and how they are being taught - and the same goes for boys too.

"You will always have a minority who are passionately interested in science but the vast majority are not interested and the real trick is to find ways of interesting them - and that's about content and presentation."

He said there could be an argument for keeping the scheme going, but its big initiatives - such as in reaching out to teachers and students or in laboratory design - were now embedded in existing organisations.

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