Surge in students sitting geology renews debate

The subject, along with others, is due to disappear from 2015

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The number of entries for the Higher in geology surged this year, despite plans to scrap the qualification in 2015 because of a supposed lack of student demand.

Almost four times as many students took the qualification this year as in 2012, up from 17 to 64. Although the numbers remain small, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith, who has been campaigning against the doomed subject's demise, said that the spike in interest showed it should be saved.

"It is very heartening indeed to see the rise in numbers taking geology and this just reinforces the reason why it should not be dropped from the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) exams in 2015," Ms Smith said.

She added that the SQA had said in a letter to her that it would look at any evidence of increasing demand for a subject and would be open to reassessing the situation.

"Geology and the earth sciences are hugely important when it comes to the senior school curriculum, and even more important when it comes to the future needs of the Scottish economy," Ms Smith said.

The SQA does not plan to offer geology as part of the new national qualifications from 2015, citing low uptake as one of its reasons for scrapping the exam. Instead, geology will be considered a cross-curricular subject.

The number of students taking Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 exams in geology fell between 2012 and 2013 from 81 to 42 and 29 to 17, respectively.

Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), told TESS that his organisation wanted to see the introduction of a new Higher in earth sciences. Continuing interest in geology, despite a lack of support from the SQA, showed that there was "increasing public awareness of the environment and awareness of geology's importance to industry and employment", he said.

Roderic Gillespie, the SQA's head of Curriculum for Excellence development, said the body recognised the importance of earth sciences for Scotland, but added: "As far as we are aware, no UK university currently asks for geology as an entry requirement on to a geology course . Taking this and the historically very low uptake of the subject into account led to the decision to consider geology as a cross-curricular subject."

The SQA is in discussion with the RSGS about the possible introduction of an earth science qualification, Mr Gillespie added.

Geology was not the only subject this year that evidenced a surge of student interest. The numbers sitting a Higher in Urdu rose from 66 to 109, and Gaelic and Italian also experienced significant rises, from 177 to 238 and 95 to 117, respectively.

With renewable energy seen as a possible growth sector for the Scottish economy, almost 50 per cent more students took a Higher in managing environmental resources. Their numbers rose from 243 in 2012 to 362 in 2013. Like geology, however, it will not be available as a new national qualification from 2015.

Other Highers to be scrapped are retail travel, where the number sitting the subject dropped from 69 to 27; architectural technology, which was taken by 12 students across Scotland; and Russian, where candidates rose slightly, from 32 to 36. There will also no longer be a Higher qualification in biotechnology, building construction and classical Greek.

Mr Gillespie said that the SQA constantly re-evaluates the courses and qualifications on offer based on factors including "the views of employers and academic institutions and their demand for specific qualifications".

When courses are removed, the SQA says it seeks to ensure that the skills and knowledge can still be obtained through other qualifications or by offering stand-alone course units.

Photo credit: Alamy

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