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Is there a shortage of scientists? A re-analysis of supply for the UK

Smith, E.; Gorard, S.

Is there a shortage of scientists? A re-analysis of supply for the UK Thumbnail


E. Smith


Despite a recent economic downturn, there is considerable political and industry pressure to retain or even increase the number of scientists in the UK and other developed countries. Claims are made that the supply of scientists (including engineers and mathematicians) is crucial to the economy and the health of the nation, and a large number of initiatives have been funded to address the problem. We consider these claims in light of a re-analysis of existing figures from 1986 to 2009, for young scientists passing through education and into employment. Science graduates are heavily stratified by social origin, and this sorting takes place during initial schooling just as it does with other ‘prestige’ subjects. The majority of science graduates then move into initial occupations that are not directly related to their degree, suggesting that at this stage of life at least, the demand for scientists trained in specific areas is more than met by existing numbers. We have no reason to believe that the situation is different to other vocational and non-vocational subjects, so perhaps science is not as special as politicians and business leaders imagine. Perhaps young people are put off careers in science by their education. Or perhaps the incentives are not right, leading to the ‘wrong’ kinds of students in science, and so wastage and inefficiency in the supply process. More pertinently, perhaps this vocational outcome is not how a developed country should assess the value and importance of scientific knowledge among its population.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 21, 2011
Deposit Date May 1, 2013
Publicly Available Date Apr 9, 2014
Journal British Journal of Educational Studies
Print ISSN 0007-1005
Electronic ISSN 1467-8527
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 59
Issue 2
Pages 159-177
Keywords Science education, Participation, Policy.
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (576 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Emma Smith & Stephen Gorard (2011) Is there a shortage of scientists? A re-analysis of supply for the UK, British Journal of Educational Studies,
59:2, 159-177, © 2011 Society for Educational Studies, available online at:

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