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Students’ career choices often influenced by what they watch on TV

All Creatures Great and Small, L-R: Robert Hardy, Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison
All Creatures Great and Small, L-R: Robert Hardy, Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison

One of the most difficult jobs a university vice chancellor has is predicting what courses will be in demand in future years.

One of the most difficult jobs a university vice chancellor has is predicting what courses will be in demand in future years.

Will students want to study Chinese or Social Sciences or something quite new. If you make a mistake and students no longer want the subjects you have on offer, you soon find the books are not balancing. You can’t ask a department to switch from teaching ancient Greek to aeronautical engineering.

I once asked the vice chancellor at the university where I was then working what the secret was.

How did he predict what students would want in a year or two? He thought for a moment and then said, ‘I watch a lot of television’.

What he meant was that young people can often be influenced in their choice of career by television series about people doing particular jobs.

When ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ was popular, there was a surge in students wanting to read veterinary medicine. ‘Silent Witness’ increased the demand for forensic medicine. And so on.

If only we could find a writer who would get to know some of the many and varied jobs that go on in the world of policing – and turn what they see into stories.

I have just spent a fascinating morning, for example, with those police staff who support front line officers in detecting crimes.

Evidence is gathered at the scene of a crime, but some of it will need to go to these support staff in their offices and laboratories.

So I saw how the smudge of a finger print can be photographed at the crime scene, transmitted electronically and quickly matched to that of a known offender.

One suspect had worn gloves to avoid fingerprints as he put some offensive material in an envelope; but support staff found he had left a tiny trace of DNA from his hand as he stuck the stamp on.

And I saw how a photograph of a victim who had been stamped on could be enhanced in such a way that the print of the shoe could be clearly seen on the victim’s face and matched against the suspect’s trainers. There are staff who can work out which of 40,000 possible makes of shoe this is.

Most of these jobs are unknown to young people as career choices. We need a retired police support worker to write a brilliant new series for television about the work of scientific support.