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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 14:43 GMT
Relative decline of science PhDs
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Growth in PhDs is not across the board
Scientists warn that there has been a fall in the proportion of UK students taking science doctorates.

A report by the Royal Society says doctoral degrees in science have fallen from 65% to 57% of all PhDs for UK students in the past 10 years.

Doctoral degrees in general rose by 79% in the UK in that time but physics, chemistry, engineering and technology have failed to grow, the study says.

Lower fees and bursaries should be used to encourage science study, it says.

Growth in doctoral degrees in the UK has been boosted by the numbers of overseas students.

The report concludes that the UK's position as a leader in higher education could be jeopardised by a failure to meet the needs of both the local and global economy, because skills and innovation are essential to remain competitive.

Reduced fees

Professor Judith Howard of the Royal Society said: "While postgraduate study in the UK is very successful in terms of overall numbers of people studying and income generated, the skills base our economy needs is still behind our competitor economies.

"The technological breakthroughs that are required to keep us competitive will come from our labs but only if they have enough people with the best education and skills."

The report says more should be done to encourage people to study science, technology, engineering and maths at all levels through the introduction of reduced fees or bursaries.

It recommends standardising the normal study period from a first degree to a PhD to eight years, instead of the present seven. This would bring the UK into line with many other European countries.

Researchers said in terms of standalone Masters degrees, science had "held its own well" against other subjects in the 10 years to 2004-05.

However, within this, physical and mathematical sciences had grown at rates slightly below average, while chemistry and physics had declined "significantly".

A spokesperson for Dius said the government was committed to increasing the number of people studying science technology engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

"Over the last five years numbers of postgraduate students studying STEM subjects has risen by 15%.

"But we are working with young people and have set up initiatives like science and engineering ambassadors, explaining that pursuing qualifications and a career in areas like science, technology, engineering and maths can be both fun and rewarding.

“The report raises some interesting questions, particularly about course lengths, which need further discussion and consideration."

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