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Byline: JONES - EVANS

LAST week, we had the annual debate over A-levels, with some questioning their decreasing value to businesses whilst others applauded the improvement in grades amongst hard working students. In the midst of all this, a report was released by the University of Buckingham which made for disturbing reading, especially for those of us who would like to see a more knowledge-based economy in Wales that can compete with the best in the world.

According to the report, entries to study for A-level physics since 1990 have fallen by 35% as opposed to general rise of 12%. As a result, one in four UK universities that previously had a significant number of undergraduates studying physics, has stopped teaching it since 1994. As a physics graduate from Cardiff University, I feel enormous dismay at the results of this study, especially as the existence of more scientists in the workplace can only be good for our economy, especially given the increasing competition from China and India.

Like many others, I believe that politicians have been slow to recognise that, across Wales, universities are not just teaching students, but are training the labour force of scientists, engineers and technicians who provide one of the key ingredients for the growth of technologically advanced industrial centres. By providing graduates with the skills required by industries, they can affect the overall level and focus of educational attainment that, in turn, can affect a region's ability to exploit new technologies successfully.

More importantly, the presence of a university with its thousands of potentially highly educated technical personnel can be a factor in attracting companies to a particular region, far more than the low-cost grant - based competitive advantage that Wales has been selling to the world for the last two decades.

Clearly, if we are to become a more successful economy, part of this will include ensuring that the number of school-leavers studying science subjects such as physics is increased in Wales. With the advent of hundreds of millions of Objective 1 funding from Europe, there may be the potential to do this quickly. I would therefore suggest that our university sector, in partnership with the Assembly Government, considers using European funds to provide full scholarships to any student within Wales who will undertake a science or engineering degree at a Welsh institution.

I therefore hope, given the fact that science policy is to be debated in the first Assembly session in the autumn, that a sense of vision will prevail and we can come up with a funding programme that will not only boost the number of science and engineering students in Wales but will, in the long term, have a major impact on the Welsh economy.

Professor Dylan Jones-Evans is Director of the National Entrepreneurship Observatory for Wales and Conservative Assembly candidate for Aberconwy

WEBSITE OF THE WEEK

www.iop.org - website of the Institute for Physics
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:483
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