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By Cheryl Anderson, University of Wales, Swansea

What attracts students to study Materials? Clearly with application numbers dropping it is a question that needs to be answered. A recent workshop on effective school's liaison threw up several ideas as to the influences on a student's choice of degree subject or even if they choose to go on from A-level at all:

  • University location
  • Information sent out by departments to schools/individuals
  • UCAS handbook suggestions based on A-level subjects
  • Open days
  • Former students of the school studied Materials
  • Residential courses at universities
  • Grades required for desired subjects
  • Parents
  • Teachers
  • General image of fields in the press/media
  • Employability of graduates in league tables
  • Number/attractiveness of related vacancies
  • Bursaries offered to enter particular degree schemes
  • Flexibility of degree schemes (for example, years out on work placements or at partner universities)

With so many sources of inspiration how can the Materials community hope to persuade potential students that Materials is the field for them? I suggested at the workshop that many students have a good idea of the jobs they find exciting and want to study a subject that could lead them on to such a career. Whilst some agreed it was pointed out by a teacher that in fact lots of students have no idea what job they want to do - they simply want to study something that they are interested in. Bursaries were also considered a strong motivating factor particularly in light of recent changes to student funding. Paid work placements, linked to the course were considered similarly enticing.

Some of these issues can be addressed by individual departments but I think that if we are to increase student numbers as a whole the Materials community must work together. A planned country-wide opening of Materials departments is a good start but more national promotions are going to be required if we are to reach those students not currently living and going to school in an area with a Materials department nearby.

Most importantly I think that we have to take Materials to the students rather than expecting the students to come to us. A Science Museum plan for a Materials Roadshow (funded by the UKCME) will help to get the message about the diversity of Materials out to the pupils and their teachers and parents. Further, we have a fantastic source of enthusiastic 'adverts' for Materials in our under- and post-graduate students. A Sheffield Hallam scheme - Pupil Researcher Initiative (PRI) - pays a small sum to encourage postgraduate students to go back into schools to talk about what they do and why. Feedback published in their newsletters suggests that this is a very effective way of breaking down stereotypes about the type of people that study science and engineering.

Here are a few questions that I think require some debate:

  • Which are the most important influences on a students decision to carry on studying/study a particular subject?
  • What evidence do we have of how well a particular approach to raising awareness works?
  • Who do you think are the most convincing advocates of the benefits of studying Materials?
  • Should companies play a bigger role in raising the profile of the engineers that it claims it desperately needs?
  • How can the IOM3/UKCME help with the development of a national strategy?

Lets get this debate going!!!

Cheryl Anderson, October 2002
(Cheryl Anderson is now with the MATTER Project)

  

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This area of the website contains articles intended to stimulate debate amongst the Materials community. Some of the articles are deliberately provocative. Please feel free to express your own opinion, or suggest other topics for discussion, by contacting the UK Centre for Materials Education.

 

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