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12 December 2014, 08:28
Telling teenagers how much they could earn if they study maths can make them more likely to take the subject at A-level, research suggests.
Youngsters who receive information about potential graduate earnings are over a third more likely to study maths, it reveals.
Around 5,597 pupils aged 15 and 16-years-old at 50 schools in England took part in the study, by researchers at Birmingham University.
They were split into two groups for the experiment, which aimed to identify whether giving the students details about graduate salaries would influence their subject choices at A-level.
The first group was taught a lesson which started with offering the youngsters the choice of leaving school with two A-levels and going straight into the workplace, or going to university to study for a degree in art. After making their decision, they were told the average salary they could expect to be earning for each option at the age of 30, based on labour market data.
They were then given options of different degree subjects they could switch to and given details of the projected salaries based on their choices.
The second ``control'' group was given a lesson which included no information on graduate salaries.
The researchers found that pupils who received information on graduate earnings were 39% more likely to study maths than those in the control group.
Teenagers who received the salary information were also 27% less likely to study biology and 39% less likely to study computing.
Learning about the high earnings potential of engineering made youngsters more likely to choose maths as they would need the subject for a career in this field, the researchers suggested.
Peter Davies, professor of education policy research at Birmingham University, who led the study, said: ``The only subject where there is clear evidence that studying it at A-level makes a difference to future earnings is maths, which can lead to high-salary occupations such as engineering.
'What we now know for sure from this research is that better information about graduate salaries would increase take-up of maths and would do so very cheaply, without having to coerce children into studying it.``
The study, which will be presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education's annual research conference, concludes: ``Policymakers are frequently concerned with encouraging sufficient students to take Stem subjects. The results of our trial suggest simply telling students what is in it for them could be sufficient to affect their choices.''