We use cookies to ensure that our site works correctly and provides you with the best experience. If you continue using our site without changing your browser settings, we'll assume that you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use and how to manage them by reading our cookies policy. Hide

Current Issue

19th February 2020
Selected Chemistry & Industry magazine issue

Select an Issue


C&I e-books

C&I e-books

C&I apps

iOS App
Android App

Popular science

Posted 08/02/2012 by sevans

Despite all the recent news about falling university applications from students in the UK, due, it is claimed, to the increased fee levels that are now in force, the attraction of science courses appears to be undiminished. In fact, some science subjects may be even more popular in terms of gaining a degree than recent increases in applications may have indicated.

According to figures published last week by the UK higher education admissions service (UCAS), applications from budding chemical engineers have increased by 12.4% to reach 11,890, compared with the same time in 2011. Although overall applications for physical sciences have fallen slightly by 0.6%, applications for all UK university courses have fallen by over 7%. These are the first figures to have been published since the introduction of higher tuition fees, which have risen as high as £9000/year.

According to the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), this increase in applications suggests that students are thinking more carefully when selecting their degree courses and focusing on the potential financial returns of their choices. As an IChemE spokesman expressed it: ‘It seems that students are thinking very carefully about which degree choices are likely to offer best return on investment and , in such an analysis, chemical engineering comes out looking more favourable than most other disciplines… Chemical engineering graduates command the third highest average starting salary in the UK.’

The recent cutbacks by pharmaceutical companies in the UK and elsewhere may have also had an impact on applications. Numbers of students applying for courses involving biological sciences have fallen by 4.4%, while applications for courses involving veterinary science and agriculture have dropped by 2.4%.

The biggest fall in applications, however, is seen for courses involving technology and architecture, building and planning where the declines are over 16%.

Another much discussed change in higher education courses has concerned the elimination of fringe courses that have sprung up over the past few years. These courses have burgeoned as universities have sought to increase their student numbers by taking on students who previously would not have been considered for traditional courses but would help meet the targets set by government.

Surely the folly of trying to increase graduate numbers by such poorly thought out strategies is now obvious, but what has been the cost in human and economic terms? While this policy keeps young people out of the unemployment figures, today’s employment situation has been made worse by the fact that these graduates now seek and expect jobs that are just not available – if they ever were.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

Add your comment




  • Cameka HaylesHahn said:
    28/03/2012 02:36

    When the IChemE and other bodies say that Chem Eng students are among the highest paid graduates in the UK, there is always a breath held amongst my friends and peers alike, who like myself are British graduates of chemical & process engineering. My response to this statement is and has always been "it depends". The pay for ChemEngers varies widely from sector to sector within engineering regardless of achieving an Honours or being able to speak two or three european languages fluently. PetroChem and Pharma were classically the leaders in high pay for ChemEngers, but with the cut backs since 2008, unchartered graduates like myself were the first to go. Sectors which have allured acquaintances since the crisis include banking and IT, hence chemical engineering has not really profited from the available skills. Sectors such as food and drink or chemicals typically pay the local starting graduate salaries, which although competitive to the area, may not be able to compete with banking or finance. The most modest sector being the water industry cannot compete with the above mentioned, as such does not pay the highest most lucrative salaries. And it is for this reason that I take offence to the statement that ChemEngers are among the best paid graduates. We become among the best paid and "most" secure once we are chartered and have spent approximately 15 years in one field. Another factor that many of these bodies refuse to acknowledge is that few ChemEngers actually work in typical chemical engineering roles, with P&IDs, HAZOPS or HAZANs, and although higher authorities may say that they are ChemEngers, the people in those roles would no longer call themselves as such. I work with chemists and biotechnologists, who are given work to do that "typically" would be assigned to a chemical engineer. True, they may often need help with the "bread and butter" of ChemEng, but they do achieve the tasks eventually. And it is in such tasks and fields that the lines become blurred- if students are not choosing ChemEng, we as a profession need to define what a ChemEnger does, does best and differentiate ourselves from the rest!

  • Anonymous said:
    13/03/2012 09:46

    gastroanthropologist - With everything I leeanrd from reading Pollan's book, one thing I realized was my frustration at how foods are priced today. The "better" for you, the more expensive the food is, putting the "better" food out of reach of those who can't afford it. So those who fall shy of a certain income bracket doesn't necessarily have access to the "better" foods and are forced to go with the convenient fast food meal or the foods that are packed with chemically engineered ingredients and/or byproducts. It's any wonder health issues result! Even if you are taking the time to think about the food you're eating and you are questioning the integrity of labels.... it's harder to do what's best for you and your health because of the financial factor! Most people think more about the immediate effect of spending money than they do about the long-term effects of eating food that's overly processed.Thanks for the book recommendation! I haven't read Food Politics yet, but I'll put it on my list of books "to read"!

  • Anonymous said:
    10/02/2012 01:01

    Your last two paragraphs speak an unpalatable but real truth.