The Royal Society of Chemistry is offering a £500 prize to the first person to solve the sort of Mathematics test set in Chinese university entrance examinations.
The society has also released a typical UK test to show how far advanced the Chinese are in preparing the next generation of scientists – or, rather, how far our standards have fallen behind other countries.
The approach adopted by the RSC appears to be based on a desire to provide convincing evidence for those that have continually claimed that our schools are no longer meeting the required standards in preparing students for the challenges of higher education. It adds weight to that familiar recent complaint that GCSE and A-Levels are getting easier – which is why average grades these days are so much higher.
The argument continues that as GCSE and A-Level gets easier, so universities have to lower their expectations and standards just to ensure they can actually fill places. In effect, the first 12 months at universities these days is spent getting UK students up to the standards that were required 10, 15, 20 and more years ago for first year undergraduates.
But is it that simple? Is the example released by the RSC a fair indication of the gulf that now exists?
If the answer is yes to both, then once again Tony Blair’s memorable pledge on his three priorities when first becoming Prime Minister – “education, education, education” – is further discredited.
There is currently a lot of time and effort being put into researching how and why China and India in particular have emerged as new economic super-powers.
Does the mathematics puzzle posed by the RSC provide the clearest answer to date?