04 Aug 2012
Lords highlight lack of STEM graduates
According to a report from the House of Lords science and technology committee, the UK’s higher-education system is not producing enough skilled STEM graduates to meet industry’s demands. It says there should be more science students at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level to drive the UK’s innovation-led economic growth, and the peers have urged the Government to launch efforts to boost the number of students on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses.
According to the report, far too many students arrive at university for STEM courses without adequate maths skills and have to be given remedial courses. Committee chairman Lord Willis said: “The Government has made clear that education and high-tech industry are vital to its plans to generate economic growth. However, without a highly skilled and knowledgeable workforce, that will not be possible.”
The committee also identified a ‘triple-whammy’ effect on the postgraduate take-up of STEM places due to a lack of student finance, increased tuition fees and a tightening of immigration rules that could potentially exclude talented international students. It also pointed out that, while the Government believes that future economic growth will come through high-tech industries, there is a considerable skills gap between what the universities are producing and what industry needs. “It is vital therefore that higher education in the UK has a strong STEM sector and is able to produce the graduates and postgraduates high-tech industries will demand,” said Lord Willis. “In reality, the quality of the STEM graduates coming out of universities does not meet the requirements of industry and in fact is ultimately not even likely to meet the requirements of academia.”
Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, commented: “The issue of insufficient skills is a very pressing concern for UK industry, and the 3% drop in engineering graduates between 2003 and 2010 is very worrying. UK sectors like automotive and aerospace manufacturing are growing and have the potential to spearhead the country’s economic recovery, but only if they are able to recruit people with the right skills. A survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers earlier this year found that, while 76% of manufacturers are recruiting, 41% are struggling to find people with the right skills.
“The UK’s career advice system is one area that is sorely lacking. If put right, it could help steer talented young people into careers, like engineering and science, which are vital to the country’s future.”