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Fewer students than ever studying physics

Exam entries down 2% on last year

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The numbers of students applying to take the A-level physics exam fell again this year, research has found. In 2005, 579 fewer physics students were entered than in 2004, a decline of around two per cent.

The numbers studying chemistry and biology, meanwhile, have been enjoying a steady rise.

The Institute of Physics (IoP) warns that the numbers will continue to fall unless students are given better careers advice when choosing their A-Level subjects. It has also called on the government to act to combat the shortage of physics teachers.

The CBI warned earlier this week that a continuing decline in science graduates will harm the UK's competitiveness, and yet there are now fewer than 50 university departments in the UK offering physics to undergraduates, a decrease of more than 30 per cent since 1997.

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive of the IoP, argues that students need to be made more aware of the options that studying physics leave open for them. He blamed narrow careers advice at schools for the number of students who take the "potentially damaging decision" to drop the subject.

"Students don't realize that if you study physics you don't automatically have to become a research scientist - but you do become much more attractive to a huge range of businesses, for example the financial services sector, engineering, the media, and computing," he said.

He also urged the government to set specific quotas for the number of physicists entering teacher training rather than a general quota for science as a whole.

"We need teachers who are passionate about physics, and able to inspire their students. Non-specialist teachers aren't as good at doing this," he argued. ®

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