Are universities lowering admission requirements for Medicine and Engineering?

This is a follow-up on my last blogpost titled "Almost 40% of degree courses are offered unconditionally – what a scandal"

The fact that Manchester University and one or two other universities, as reported in the Sunday Times of 4th August, 2019, will, from 2020, remove Chemistry as a compulsory subject for gaining admission to medical school is one that I view with suspicion. However, despite my slight pessimism about this decision, there are two arguments in support of this particular move:

  1. I have taught Physics to many bright young people at grammar schools and private schools and, for many, my job was slightly easier, as those bright young people, if taught reasonably well, would always get an A grade in Maths and also in Physics; in most cases anyway. However, when it comes to Chemistry, too many of those really talented young people often fall short and end up with a B grade at A-level
  2. In many European countries, including Germany, science subjects are not a requirement for gaining admission into medical school.

Are we likely to end up with badly trained medical doctors missing diagnoses because they’ve not studied A-level Chemistry?

In the Sunday Times article, concern was expressed about the potential issues of medical doctors missing diagnoses because of a poor chemistry background as they were not well prepared in their training, simply because they had not studied Chemistry at A-level under the new admission criteria by Manchester University and a few others.

My view on this is that I believe that Chemistry A-level is useful in the training of medical doctors. From my observations, I do not necessarily think that A-level Chemistry requires higher intellectual capacity to obtain an A grade in comparison to, say, Physics, Maths or Further Maths. However, I think that the way to think, the skills to develop and the temperament one needs to have in order to obtain the top grade in Chemistry are useful in training as a medical doctor. I disagree that A-level Psychology is a science subject and that it ought to be accepted in place of Chemistry as a requirement for medical school. I’d argue that Latin, French, Economics or History are all as good as Psychology in preparing for medical doctor training.

Having said all of the above, I welcome the notion of experimenting with the idea of removing A-level Chemistry as a must-have “A grade” in order to be admitted to medical school. I’m sure those universities who are not asking for A-level Chemistry will ensure that the first or second year of their medical degree course is designed in a way that expects medical students to develop the chemistry competence they require for successful completion of a medical degree course.

Physics not necessary for an Engineering degree – any danger of wonky bridges?

One of the newly introduced admission criteria that concern is raised over is the notion that more universities are now not requiring Physics as one of the A-level subjects to study Engineering.  Despite the fact that Physics is my subject, the subject my degree is in and what I’ve taught for over a couple of decades, I agree that, although it is wrong to think that one can qualify as an engineer without a high degree of physics knowledge, I also believe that A-level Physics should not necessary be a requirement to study engineering.

One ought to remember that studying Engineering at a top university is largely about Maths, Maths and Maths. A good understanding of the Physics concepts will help, but some of that can be learnt in Maths – particularly for the fact that the requirements of the new A-level Maths courses that were introduced about a couple of years ago stipulate that students have to study Mechanics (Mechanics has the bulk of the physics that is required for engineering in it) as part of the A-level Maths course. In the old A-level Maths course, students had the option of ignoring Mechanics and taking Statistics or discrete (decision) Maths as options. Again, I see no danger of a lack of knowledge in physics leading to engineers building a wonky bridge! There are all sorts of processes and safety procedures that go into designing and building a bridge. It involves very many professionals and the use of computer technology and simulations and not just engineers.

Those young people who have not studied A-level Physics will, perhaps, have other talents and points of view that may just be as useful in contributing to their engineering course and to society as a whole.

In conclusion, going back to the original discussion in my previous blog post, I am of the view that it is a terrible idea for almost two-fifths (38%) of degree courses to be offered unconditionally, as there is no incentive for young people to push themselves and to aspire to high A-level achievement. I have read many books and had the opportunity to meet so many successful people. I have learnt that, for many successful people – particularly those who are self-made – the money they made or the position they got to is not the most important thing to them. What is most important is what they had to do in getting to that position. The kind of person they have become is what matters most. Usually, if they lose their money or job, or fall from the high position they are, they will regain it in a relatively short period. Having the motivation and the discipline to study and be organised does an awful lot for a young person.  It is not about the destination, it is about the journey. The end result is just icing on the cake!

Please see the link to previous blog post and the start of this two-part series below.

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