Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 13

Memorandum from EEF, the manufacturers organisation

INTRODUCTION

  EEF-The manufacturers' organisation, has a membership of 6,000 manufacturing, engineering and technology-based businesses and represents the interests of manufacturing at all levels of government. Comprising 11 regional Associations, the Engineering Construction Industries Association (ECIA) and UK Steel, EEF is one of the UK's leading providers of business services in health, safety and environment, employment relations and employment law, manufacturing performance, education, training and skills.

  We believe that the issues surrounding the popularity and success of science, engineering and technology subjects in Higher Education are complex. There are issues relating to the supply of suitable young people to study, which lead to problems of low demand for these courses. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) consequently struggle to maintain facilities and provision. We have examined the causes of departmental closures below, and suggest some ways in which the popularity of these subjects could be improved.

REASONS FOR HEI DEPARTMENTAL AND COURSE CLOSURES

  1.  Lack of appropriate applicants—the individuals applying for courses in these subjects are not suitable for high-level study, because they have not achieved the necessary levels of learning in prerequisite subjects such as mathematics and physics.

  2.  Unpopularity of subjects in school—science, engineering and technology can struggle to attract students at A level, reducing the "pool" of students applying to HE. These subjects are often perceived by students to be more "difficult" than subjects in the arts or social sciences, and therefore less appealing.

  3.  The relative cost of delivery of these subjects can makes them hard to justify—they are highly resource intensive in terms of facilities, staff and materials.

  4.  Unattractiveness of the HE "offer" to a diverse cohort—there is not enough part-time and distance learning for people already in work. There is also a lack of understanding of the nature of prior qualifications and eligibility for entry to courses. HEIs therefore exclude a number of individuals who might make excellent students by failing to provide enough flexibility in the access and delivery of courses.

WHAT WILL MAKE THESE SUBJECTS THRIVE AT HE LEVEL?

  1.  Demonstrable good employment prospects for young people who undertake them. With increasing levels of debt from higher education study, young people will expect to see a return on their investment. Employers, professional bodies and HEIs have a responsibility to provide accurate information on employment levels and salaries to help inform the decision-making process.

  2.  Also key is good careers advice which identifies individuals' strength and finds an HEI and course to match (academic, vocational, large, small, etc). This is an imperative at all levels of education, and one which EEF is actively campaigning to improve. This advice and guidance should be based on factual data, giving the individual all the appropriate information necessary to make informed choices.

  3.  Government/HEI intervention to make them cheaper to study than other subjects. This could be through fee rebates, or other financial incentives such as free accommodation for students in these departments.

  4.  Company sponsorship—there is no doubt that employers have a role to play in encouraging appropriate individuals in their workforce to develop their skills to a high level, utilising HE courses if necessary. Many employers do already provide sponsorship and support, both for full and part-time participation.

  5.  Following from the sponsorship point above, flexible entry criteria to HE courses, and flexible delivery mechanisms are essential to provide high-quality candidates in these subjects. Part-time students, former apprentices, and those with vocational qualifications can boost the intake of science, engineering and technology departments, as well as providing "real world" experience to enrich the learning of all. These subjects are significantly more attractive to prospective students when they can see a wide range of people with different experience taking part.

  6.  Similarly, attracting and employing tutors with real-world experience who are enthusiastic is extremely important to sustain the popularity of these subjects—young people and prospective students will want to study with people who are at the fore-front of their field, and who also know how to apply their knowledge.

  7.  High levels of staff/student ratios—personal support and interaction with tutors gives students increased levels of confidence necessary to cope with the demands of these subjects.

  8.  Facilities that are state of the art and well-maintained, including information resources. This gives young people confidence that their learning will be applicable in the workplace. It also makes the subjects attractive to those who wish to work on the "cutting edge" of new technology.

  9.  Links between HEIs and companies make these subjects very attractive to students, particularly large global employers. This can lead to high-level, sponsored research within the department, as well as employment opportunities.

SCIENCE SUBJECTS AND THE TEACHING FUNDING FORMULA

  EEF made a response to the recent Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) consultation on weightings for science, engineering and technology subjects. We were extremely alarmed at the proposed reduction in funding for engineering. Our argument is that reducing funding for engineering subjects is directly contrary to the current Productivity and Innovation agenda, given impetus by the Roberts Review of Supply of Scientists and Engineers, and Baroness Greenfield's report SETFAIR, that science, engineering and technology based subjects make an invaluable contribution to the wealth and well-being of the nation as a whole. The work done by engineers and scientists in their chosen fields keeps Britain at the forefront of research and development in the global economy.

  Additionally, a significant proportion of SET students contribute to the wider economy through employment in other occupations following graduation. The high levels of numeracy, problem-solving and analytical skills which these courses develop mean science and engineering graduates are in high demand throughout the economy. The economy as a whole will therefore suffer if there are fewer graduates in engineering and science.

  We can see no justification for the selection of these subjects for reduced funding. We do not believe that they have become cheaper to deliver since the existing funding structure was agreed. On the contrary, constant upgrading for new technology, equipment and processes places increasing financial demands on HEIs, who need to be confident that their resources are "leading-edge".

  Similarly, the need for those teaching science, engineering and technology degrees to continually update their skills places a financial burden on institutions as they invest in the continuing professional development of staff.

REGIONAL CAPACITY IN UNIVERSITY SCIENCE TEACHING AND RESEARCH

  For engineering employers, one of the key elements to higher education support is its geographical proximity to the employer's premises. This is for a number of reasons:

  1.  For employees moving beyond apprenticeships, and those already in work, part-time local provision is more likely to be appealing than full-time. Many will want to continue in their workplaces in some capacity, as well as taking the opportunity to maintain some level of earnings during their study.

  2.  The engineering sector has always had regional strengths. It is therefore essential that HEIs in areas of high industrial concentration are encouraged to develop their engineering and science provision, and that appropriate levels of HEI places are available to the local population.

  3.  Engineering employers, because of the physical nature of much manufacturing, can build strong links with local education providers. While some companies may link across wider distances, engaging with post-graduate research and desk-based studies, others prefer to build local links which reflect tangible benefits

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

  We strongly believe that Government should intervene to protect subjects of strategic importance, incentivising these subjects through HEFCE. We also believe that public government support, backed by material funding, will underline the value of science, engineering and technology subjects in the UK economy. There is a continuing misapprehension, because some parts of the sector are contracting, that there is no future for either the sector or those who wish to make these subjects their career. Rather, high-level skills in these sectors has never been more valued or more sought after. The Pathfinder Sector Skills Agreements currently being developed by SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies) strongly support this.

  We believe that Government should provide support in two ways:

  1.  Providing funding to allow HEIs to rebate and reduce fees for science, engineering and technology courses.

  2.  Supporting this with a public statement about the value of such sectors to the UK economy, and their contribution to its future prosperity. This will raise their profile with prospective students, and improve their understanding of the potential rewards of a career in this area.

January 2005



 
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