The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is under pressure to save geology Higher after an almost fourfold rise in the number of pupils sitting the exam this year.
Geology Higher is due to be scrapped in two years but academics and scientists are urging a rethink, citing not just Scotland’s key role in developing the science in the 18th century but also the potential for more industrial and economic opportunities in the future, including gas and oil.
Only 17 pupils took the subject in 2012 but this year the total was 64. Although small, this comes against a backdrop of extremely limited investment in the subject – no new teachers have been trained since 1985, according to Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
Other subjects such as classical Greek also have relatively low uptake but are deemed too important to abolish at Higher level.
“This growth is great, but it will be very difficult to sustain in 2014 with the continued attitude of the SQA and the apparent lack of support for earth science in some sectors of government,” Mr Robinson told The Herald.
“It reinforces our strong belief that there is a very real appetite for a course at Higher and the SQA has a real opportunity to distil this enthusiasm and grassroots demand.”
Professor Iain Stewart, the geologist and television presenter behind the BBC’s BAFTA nominated Earth: The Power of the Planet, said it was wrong for the SQA to use earlier declines in the figures to justify closing the Higher. “We need to look again at the curriculum to see how the subject can be promoted rather than run down,” he said.
An SQA spokesman said it recognised the value of earth sciences for Scotland but no UK university currently asked for geology as an entry requirement onto a geology course.
“We are keen to look at innovative ways of developing qualifications and SQA has met geology specialists with a view to determining demand for an earth science qualification.”
Aspects of geology feature in the new physics, chemistry, geography, science and environmental science courses, he added.