Science, maths and engineering graduates are “brightest” students

A report conducted at Duke University indicates that students studying maths, science or engineering degrees are among the most intelligent members of society. Humanities students ranked in the middle of the data, while education and agriculture students came consistently at the bottom.

Dr. Jonathan Wai, a research scientist at Duke University, in North Carolina, conducted the report. He chose to investigate the question as to whether “students who choose to major in different fields have different academic aptitudes”.

To create the report, Wai looked at five different methods of judging American students academic ability, ranging from 1946 to 2014. The research revealed that the ranking of the “cognitive skills” for different degree programmes had remained noticeably consistent over the last 70 years. Wai suggested “STEM majors have consistently had the highest average academic aptitude may also reflect the fact that STEM disciplines are highly complex and require such aptitude”.

The report also indicated that US students who choose to study education – and who will go on to become teachers – have “for at least the last seven decades been selected from students at the lower end of the academic aptitude pool”.

The report suggested one way to tackle the issue, would be to follow the example of countries with leading education systems, for example: Finland and South Korea. These countries recruit their teaching staff exclusively from “the top third of the academic cohort”.

Data from UK universities would seem to confirm this academic bias towards STEM subjects. According to the Telegraph Education, the hardest degree to get into at Oxford University is Economics, with an acceptance rate of only 7%. This is closely followed by Computer Science, with a 9% rate of acceptance, and Medicine, with 11%.

However, students at the London School of Economics (LSE), have rated their institution in the bottom 20 for student satisfaction, giving it 3.95 out of 5. This was published in the Complete University Guide’s 2016 League Table, indicating that despite having the fourth highest UK entry standard (UCAS score 532), LSE students are not as satisfied with their overall experience as those at UEA, who ranked the institution 4.19 out of 5 for student satisfaction.

In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework 90% of research conducted by the faculties of science at UEA was judged to be “either world leading or internationally excellent”. The Faculty of Medicine and Health sciences is also one of the very best in the country, with “approximately 98% of students employed in the health profession, upon graduation”.

First year medical student Rachel Flinn was unsurprised by the results of the study: “I do think science subjects require more hard work than humanities and I wouldn’t be surprised if that attracted cleverer students to apply for these courses in greater numbers”. She also pointed out that “surely, having intelligent people working as doctors can only ever be a good thing?”

However, second year History student Tom Lacy took a different view to study’s results: “You get out of any degree what you put in to it – I would definitely say I work as hard as a science or maths student, just in a different way”.

The issue of employability, however, indicates that, in the UK at least, not taking a STEM degree isn’t a direct route to unemployment. In 2013, 92.6% of all education graduates were in further study or employment.

History students also buck the trend. 85.4% of graduates in that same year had landed jobs or further studies within six months of finishing their studies, down from 90% in 2012.


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May 2022
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