Industrial Strategy: science and STEM skills Contents

3Closing the STEM skills gap

44.The Green Paper acknowledged that “We have a shortage of technical-level skills, and rank 16th out of 20 OECD countries for the proportion of people with technical qualifications. We have particular skills shortages in sectors that depend on STEM subjects”.95 Nearly 40% of UK employers report difficulties recruiting staff with relevant STEM skills.96 Engineering UK has calculated that by being able to hire 182,000 skilled workers per year by 2020, the UK’s GDP could increase by £27 billion.97

45.Professor Alex Halliday from the Royal Society highlighted the need for the Government to focus on the skills agenda in the industrial strategy:

Technical education and the skills agenda are hugely important for the UK, an area where we have lagged behind relative to other countries and we need to up our game dramatically, both in further education […] and in broadening education. […] We need people to be able to reskill in new ways […]. We need people to get a broad education so they can move from one area to another, both because they are going to have to deal with the fact that their employment may change and from the point of view that we need experts with breadth.98

46.The Green Paper sought to “open a discussion on how we can create a new system of technical education, including a radically simplified set of qualifications; […] and creating prestigious new Institutes of Technology to deliver higher-level technical education in all regions”.99 The document identified particular challenges:

47.In addressing these challenges, the Green Paper included Government commitments to improve basic skills through its ‘Skills Plan’, to create a new system of technical education, to identify specific skills gaps and address STEM shortages, to provide quality careers information and advice, and to test new approaches to life-long learning. Jen Rae from Nesta told us:

We are long overdue a shake-up in vocational and technical skills delivery.100

The skills section [of the Green Paper] […] is a welcome look at technical skills, but there is an opportunity here to be much more ambitious about skills provision and looking at the future of the workforce, not just in the next five years but also over a much longer term.101

48.The 2017 Spring Budget announced a £500 million investment in technical education, creating a so-called T’ level for 16–19 year olds to be introduced from autumn 2019. Students will be able to choose from 15 different course ‘routes’. Formal training hours for 16–19 year olds will increase by 50% and students will be able to undertake industry work-placements. Maintenance loans will also be provided for students doing higher-level technical courses at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology. The Budget also announced a commitment of up to £300 million “to further develop the UK’s research talent”, including creating 1,000 PhDs across STEM areas.102 Professor Dame Ann Dowling found the investment in new Institutes of Technology “very welcome news”.103

49.The BEIS Committee complained, however, that in the Green Paper “a ‘new commitment’ to ‘explore and further encourage the uptake of STEM subjects’ is vague and suggests little by way of a change in direction”.104 The Committee was “disappointed that the Green Paper fails to outline any detailed proposals for discussion in relation to encouraging the uptake of STEM subjects, and improving the skills of those already of working age”.105 In our own inquiry, Paul Jackson, the chief executive of Engineering UK, observed that the Government’s Digital Strategy was published a short time before the Green paper and the two “were not linked together”.106 The BEIS Committee also cast doubt on the feasibility of schools being able to introduce the new skills initiatives envisaged in the Green Paper because they would be “highly constrained by the fact that mainstream schools in England are expected to make £3 billion of efficiency savings by 2019–20 at a time of rising pupil numbers”.107

50.Many in industry and academia have nevertheless welcomed the proposals outlined in the Green Paper. The president of the Royal Society welcomed the focus on skills:

In order to thrive in the global economy the UK will need to be smarter. Quality technical education, alongside traditional academic routes, is essential to ensure that people have the skills required for high-wage jobs and employers can get the highly skilled staff they need. To ensure that the skills pipeline is working, we also need to look at our schools. The Government should also ensure that all young people are learning science and maths skills as part of broader education to age 18.108

Professor Dame Ann Dowling commented that “we will only be able to make the most of [the] opportunities if there is also investment in the skills that employers need. The Government’s industrial strategy will be critical in delivering that step change in our skills base.”109

51.However, some have cautioned that the Green Paper’s approach and focus might be too narrow. Professor Quintin McKellar from Universities UK told us:

We very much support the ambition with regard to technical education but would suggest that that should be at both degree and sub-degree level. We support the ambition for lifelong learning, particularly part-time and short courses and how they might contribute to retraining and upskilling individuals in society.110

Setting up a few more free schools that focus on STEM is not going to cut the mustard, I am afraid. You need a much longer-term, much deeper level of investment. […] What we need now are people who have a range of skills and a range of backgrounds, not simply focused on one specific area. The Green Paper emphasises too much sub-degree-level technical skills.111

52.We have not been able to examine the raft of skills-related initiatives announced in the Green Paper. However, our previous inquiries on Digital skills and Leaving the EU, and our current parallel inquiry on the STEM skills gap,112 have highlighted a number of measures where STEM capacities could be improved and be fed into the next iteration of the industrial strategy initiative, as we discuss below.

STEM in education

53.In our Digital Skills Crisis report last year, we emphasised the need for interest in computer science and STEM more broadly to be captured at primary school level and then maintained until potentially career-defining choices are made in selecting subjects at GCSE and A’ level”.113 We took evidence in March 2017 at the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair in Birmingham and were greatly encouraged to see the enthusiasm of so many children and young people for science and technology.

54.Nevertheless, there remains a STEM skills problem. Research in 2014 found that a high proportion of children and young people enjoy science, and believe that it is important for the future, but only a small proportion of students wanted to become a scientist.114 Our recent report on Science communication and engagement highlighted that young people’s ‘science capital’115—their exposure to science influences—correlates with the likelihood of them pursuing a career in STEM and is less prevalent in disadvantaged groups.116 Parents and teachers are the biggest influencers on children’s study choices, but half of parents feel ill-informed about the benefits of STEM subjects and associated potential career paths.117 Paul Jackson from Engineering UK told us that:

The gap we are seeing is in areas such as engineering, digital and physical science. […] We are seeing a gap of upwards of 20,000 graduate-type skills, so level 4 and above […] and a similar number at level 3. […] Education is not changing positively in encouraging people to study science and maths through to 18.118

55.Philip Pratley from Leonardo told us:

Who are the key influencers who stop them, who will be discouraging them? […] Teachers can be a most tremendous influence and we are seeing an increasing awareness among staff of the career potential that engineering and STEM provides. It is often parents and we work with schools to provide materials for families days and careers evenings that give the parents the confidence of knowing that engineering is a credible and genuine career with huge opportunity rather than perhaps the more stereotypical view they had before.119

56.Research by ‘Your Life’, a campaign to increase the numbers of young people studying maths and physics post-16, found that young people are put off maths and science “in their droves” while at secondary school.120 Allan Cook from the Royal Academy of Engineering urged the Government to focus in the industrial strategy on younger children—”from an engineering point of view, we have to get the message across much earlier than 11, 12 and 13-year-olds; their decisions and their mind-set have already been formed long before then”.121 Similarly, Philip Pratley from Leonardo told us “when we speak to the teachers of 11 and 12 year olds—years 7 and 8—[…] those teachers will say ‘If I have lost that child before he or she is 11, especially before she is 11, I have lost them.’”122

Education reform

57.This disappointing picture comes after many years during which the treatment of STEM in the education system has been regularly changed and reformed. Standardised testing (‘Sats’) was introduced with the National Curriculum for schools in England and Wales in 1988, including pupil assessments for English, mathematics and science from key stages 1–4 (5–16 year olds).123 Standardised testing in science was scrapped in 2009,124 which was supported by some who thought that testing did not best measure a child’s scientific ability and risked putting them off science,125 as well as limiting teachers’ flexibility in the classroom. Others argued that the removal of testing provided little incentive to stimulate an interest in science at primary level.126 Following recent reform of the national curriculum, assessments in science will be reintroduced at Key Stage 2 (11 years)—a number of schools will be selected (representing the population as a whole) for sample testing.127

58.In the early 1990s, a combined GCSE science (or ‘Double Science’) was offered in place of separate physics, chemistry or biology courses.128 Then in 2006, ‘Triple science’ or single award GCSEs in biology, physics or chemistry were re-introduced.129 It was hoped at that time that these reforms would help address the STEM skills gap. A recent King’s College London ASPIRES survey has shown, however, that socially disadvantaged students are less likely to study Triple Science: Schools rather than students decide the availability of Key Stage 4 science options, and many students think that Triple Science is only for ‘clever’ children.130 More positively, with the introduction of the English Baccalaureate, 29% of students opted for Triple Science in 2011 compared to 16% the year before.131

59.The Royal Society highlighted in 2011 that many children lost interest in mathematics and science during their secondary school years and that too few students chose to study STEM at A’ level to make degree programmes in STEM subjects viable.132 Mark Page from Your Life told us that “what we see in the research is that those who are streamed into Double Science feel that that is it, and there is no possibility to carry on”.133

60.Over a number of years, however, there have been considerable efforts by Government, industry and education sectors to develop a range of diverse and innovative initiatives to raise awareness and stimulate interest in STEM among children and young people. Initiatives include website, education and career resources aimed at teachers and parents, as well as sciences fairs and festivals. In our inquiry on Science communication and engagement, we received many encouraging submissions from national and local science museums, nature clubs and festivals, which have helped to complement formal STEM learning in schools. In recent years, events such as the Cheltenham Science Festival, the Big Bang Fair, British Science Week, the opening of the At-Bristol Science Centre and the Life Science Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, amongst others, have not only increased public engagement in science but have also played a vital role in building our ‘science capital’. In our Skills gap inquiry, similarly, we have received information on a large number of initiatives aimed at increasing interest and skills (Box 1). The Government has contributed to other initiatives, including STEM Ambassadors, the Inspiring Science Fund and contributing to CREST awards.134 However, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, despite there being over 600 organisations running such STEM initiatives, they have not overall had the desired impact of increasing uptake of STEM subjects among young people.135

Box 1: Initiatives from submissions to our STEM skills inquiry

Arkwright Scholarships Trust

UK wide scholarship scheme to nurture sixth form STEM students to take up engineering careers 1

Aston University

STEM outreach, delivery of degree apprenticeships, industry work placements, establishment of its Engineering Academy 2


BP Education Service provides teaching resources. Schools Link, an employee volunteering programme in schools 3

British Science Association

CREST Awards—rewards 32,000 11–19 year old students for achievements in STEM project work 4


SNOWE network provides guidance to female engineers, includes buddying system 5

EDF Energy

Web based resources through ‘The Pod’ for pupils4–14 year olds on science, sustainability and the environment 6

Edge Foundation

Career Footsteps and Business in Classroom programmes to improve young people’s understanding of STEM career options 7


Provides 50 technical training courses, trains 300 apprentices per year in engineering and manufacturing skills 8

Enterprising Science

Collaborative research and development programme for science education; partnership with BP, Science Museum and King’s College London 9

Field Studies Council

Education charity with an estimated 154,000 visitors every year to its field centres focuses on courses in biology, geography and geology. 10

Harris Academy Greenwich

STEM club for children ages 7 – 13 11

Institute for Research in Schools

Programme that encourages science and engineering students to master skills in handling data; provides teachers training on current research and development 12

London Borough of Haringey

Haringey STEM Commission creates post-16 opportunities to support young people into STEM based career pathways 13

Natural History Museum

Angela Marmot Centre dedicated to supporting amateur and professional naturalists, which has also launched Identification for the Future project 14

National Physical Laboratory

STEM outreach in schools and post-graduate Institute for Measurement and Science 15

National STEM Learning Centre and Network

Project ENTHUSE provides bursaries for CPD training for teachers in STEM subjects 16

Nuffield Research Placements

Research Placements for Year 12 students 17


Integrated teaching approaches, degree programmes and modules and STEM work placements 18

Royal Academy of Engineering

Engineering Talent project aimed at changing the perception of engineering at young people will be launched in September 2017

Royal Geographical Society

Professional development for teachers (provision of teaching materials) 19

Science Industry Partnership

Development of six programmes on careers, traineeships, SMART apprenticeships, industry degree scheme, modular masters in formulation science and technology and workforce development 20

Shortcut Project

Development of research skills 21

University of Leicester/National Space Centre

National Space Centre attracts 3000,000 visitors every year; National Space Academy using space as the context to teach GCSE, A ‘level, BTEC and apprenticeship to complement University’s undergraduate/post graduate courses 22

Women in Manufacturing and Engineering

Business initiative working with Green Port Hull and Jobcentre Plus to get women and girls into manufacturing and engineering 23

Your Life

Three-year campaign to increase numbers young people studying maths and physics post 16 24

1 Arkwright Scholarships Trust (GAP043)

2 Aston University (GAP032)

3 BP (GAP044)

4 British Science Association (GAP085)

5 Carillion (GAP053)

6 EDF Energy (GAP039)

7 Edge Foundation (GAP026)

8 EEF (GAP035)

9 BP (GAP044)

10 Field Studies Council (GAP019)

11 Harris Academy Greenwich (GAP012)

12 Institute for Research in Schools (GAP016)

13 London Borough of Haringey (GAP038)

14 Natural History Museum (GAP049)

15 National Physical Laboratory (GAP034)

16 BP (GAP034)

17 Nuffield Foundation (GAP005)

18 Nuffield Foundation (GAP005)

19 Nuffield Foundation (GAP005)

20 Science Industry Partnership (GAP018)

21 East Midland Zoological Society (GAP007)

22 University of Leicester/National Space Centre (GAP023)

23 Women in Manufacturing and Engineering (GAP014)

24 Your Life (GAP027)

61.Encouraging students from an early age to have an understanding of science needs to be a priority if the UK is to stay at the forefront of research and innovation. While there have been extensive reforms in the national curriculum, which will be difficult for teachers and students alike to absorb, it must be kept relevant for students’ STEM skills needs as they enter a continually evolving workplace. Continuing reforms will need to be evidence-based, however, to reflect not just what employers need but also the evidence on what initiatives—many at a local scale—are most effective in increasing and sustaining young people’s interest in science and what really influences their study subject choices. We recommend therefore that the Government review the initiatives that have been submitted to our STEM skills gap inquiry (Box 1), and work with the learned societies, national academies and professional bodies to identify best practice and opportunities for scaling up their wider use and Government support.

62.Degree-level programmes are not suited to everyone, nor is it always the most appropriate way to develop STEM skills. There have been too few clear and well recognised routes into skilled and highly paid roles in STEM-related areas as alternatives to university degree courses. The announcement of the new T’ level is therefore a welcome development.

Higher Education and apprenticeships

63.The Government is taking forward the results of its earlier reviews of the employability of computer science graduates (Shadbolt review)136 and of the STEM and other skills requirements of employers (Wakeham review).137 The Government is also aiming to create 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020; part of the Chancellor’s Fixing the Foundations productivity plan.138 BEIS told us that there are currently apprenticeships in sectors such as construction, advanced engineering, engineering environmental technologies, energy and utilities and space engineering. The Government had made a 40% increase in funding for Level 2 apprenticeship pathways and an 80% increase for those at level 3 and above, to reflect the disproportionate amount that employers are likely to be paying to providers for training on top of existing Government funding.139

64.However, the National Audit Office found that the majority of the growth in apprenticeship starts was in Level 2 apprenticeships, with only 2% of starts at the more stringent Levels 4 – 7.140 Paul Jackson from Engineering UK told us:

It is difficult for [companies] to be able to use the levy money on three- and four-year apprenticeships as effectively as they would like. They can probably draw down only 25% to 50% of the levy funding and many of them would like to be able to reach into education and use that as part of the funding for the work that bridges the gap between employers and companies.141

In a similar vein, Steve Bates from the Bio-Industry Association believed that larger businesses might not benefit as much from the apprenticeship levy if there is a “drive […] to the lower-end of apprenticeships”, and suggested that levy-paying companies be able to share their funds to collaborate on providing apprenticeships in SMEs within their supply-chains.142

65.Allan Cook from the Royal Academy of Engineering believed that, unless the management of the apprenticeship levy was transferred from the Department for Education—”the wrong place”—to BEIS, it would not get “the right level of attention it needs”.143

66.The Green Paper provides no new information on how the apprenticeships programme will be implemented, beyond previous announcements, nor how it will be further developed to fill emerging STEM skills gaps. The next iteration of the industrial strategy initiative should address this.

Access to existing STEM skills

67.While increasing the STEM skills of our children and students will help meet the needs of the workplace in future, it is also important to make use of existing STEM skills wherever they can be found, including from overseas. Between 2004 and 2014, there was an 18% increase in the number of STEM graduates in the UK, driven by an increase in non-UK EU resident STEM graduates of 72% and in non-EU STEM graduates of 51%144. The science minister, Jo Johnson MP, confirmed soon after the June 2016 Referendum that EU students currently studying in the UK or beginning their studies in autumn 2016 would remain eligible for student finance throughout the duration of their courses, and it was subsequently announced that this would also apply to those starting courses in autumn 2017.145

68.We highlighted after the Referendum that researcher mobility is a crucial component of the UK’s successful research and science sector. We recommended in our Leaving the EU report that the issue should be treated separately from discussions about immigration control more broadly, and that the Government should make an immediate commitment to exempt EU researchers currently working in the UK from Brexit negotiations on any reciprocal immigration controls for workers already in post.146 The Government felt unable to give that assurance in its response to our report, although they did say that this would be priority in its Brexit negotiations:

[The Government] is committed to building on the UK’s world-leading science base and making the UK the go-to nation for scientists, innovators and investors in technology. […] Providing reassurance to these individuals and UK researchers working in Europe will be important for the Government going forwards. Securing the status and providing certainty to EU nationals already in the UK—and to UK nationals in the EU—is one of this Government’s top priorities for the forthcoming negotiations.”147

69.In agreeing this report on the day that the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, we reiterate our earlier call for the Government to give a firm commitment to EU researchers working and studying in the UK that they will continue to have a secure position in the UK post-Brexit.

98 Q2

100 Q67

101 Q43

102 HM Treasury, Spring Budget 2017 (March 2017),

103 Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Industrial strategy: Academy welcomes proposals that will benefit the whole country’, press release, 23 January 2017

104 Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Second Report of Session 2016–17, Industrial Strategy: First Review, HC 616, para 113

108 Royal Society, ‘Royal Society response to Industrial Strategy’, press release, 23 January 2017

109 Royal Academy of Engineering, ‘Industrial strategy: Academy welcomes proposals that will benefit the whole country, press release, 23 January 2017

110 Q2

111 Q40

113 Science and Technology Committee, Second Report of Session 2016–17, Digital Skills Crisis, HC270

115 King’s College and the Science Museum, Science Capital: Enterprising Science

116 Dewitt, J. and Archer, L, Who aspires to a science career? A comparison of survey responses from primary and secondary school students. International Journal of Science Education (2015), 37(13) 2170–2192

120 AT Kearney for Your Life campaign, Tough Choices, (2016)

121 Q66

123 STEM learning, National Curriculum

125 Science Community Representing Education (SCORE), Government abolishes Key Stage 2 Science Sats, press release, 2009

127 Standards & Testing Agency, Science Sampling Arrangements (April 2016)

129 Fairbrother R., Dillion J., Triple Science back on the agenda, King’s College London (2008)

131 Department for Education, More students study core subjects, thanks to EBacc, (August 2011)

134 BEIS (GAP057), paras 1.32–1.39

135 Royal Academy of Engineering, The UK STEM Education Landscape (May 2016)

136 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability (April 2016)

137 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Higher Education Funding Council for England, Terms of reference for the Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability (February 2015); Higher Education Funding Council for England (GAP0068)

139 Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (GAP0057)

140 National Audit Office, Delivering value through the apprenticeships programme, HC 624, Session 2016–17

142 Q68

143 Q68

144 Gatsby Foundation, Key indicators in STEM education (December 2014)

145 Department for Education, ‘Funding support for EU students, press release, 11 October 2016

5 April 2017