The pharmaceutical industry says that the government’s decision to withdraw funding from the creation of a new science diploma is “disappointing,” as it will affect young people wanting to study science.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has announced this week that the development of new diplomas in science, humanities and languages, due to be introduced from September 2011 as a potential replacement for GCSEs and A-levels, will cease immediately. This means instant savings of around £1.77 million, plus further savings in future years, he said.

Scrapping the development of the academic diploma courses, which would have combined traditional study with work experience, will enable efforts to focus on “making sure our existing qualifications are rigorous, challenging and properly prepared our young people for life, work and study,” added the coalition government, in a statement.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) had been uneasy about the Labour government’s plan to extend the diploma scheme for 14-19-year-olds from sector-related subjects such as hospitality and engineering - which it supported - to the academic areas, describing the move as “over-ambitious, ” and warning that the proposed new diplomas would not have any greater value to young people or to employers than the existing GCSEs or A levels.

“Introducing a range of science, humanities or languages diplomas runs the risk of undermining the integrity of these traditional academic subjects, and they could also be a distraction from the need to raise the numbers of young people studying science and maths,” CBI director-general Richard Lambert had said of the plans, which were announced in October 2007 by then-Schools Secretary Ed Balls.

But the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) had “warmly welcomed” the proposals, stating that the research-based pharmaceutical industry in the UK “needs young, innovative scientists and we are optimistic that the new qualification will open up science as a career for students who may not otherwise have considered studying it.”

Responding to the news of the proposal’s scrapping this week, the ABPI pointed to the need for young people entering industry to be able to apply their scientific and mathematical knowledge in the workplace. At the 14-19 level, schools and colleges need to provide students with the knowledge, skills and understanding to pursue relevant courses in further and higher education, make informed choices about their future careers and prepare them for employment in science-related fields, said the industry group.

Recent increases in the numbers of young people taking applied science courses show there is a demand for context-based learning, and the science diploma would have provided a high-quality, innovative qualification to help equip the young people of today for the jobs of tomorrow, it added.

“The pharmaceutical industry wants to see more young people taking up science in higher education so that it has the young scientists in the UK that it needs to maintain and develop its world-leading role in researching new medicines,” said Allison Jeynes-Ellis, medical and innovation director of the ABPI. “While the diploma would have been an important step in developing the future of science learning and skills in this country, we are hoping that we can discuss with the government other ways in which we can achieve these objectives,” added Dr Jeynes-Ellis.