Higher Education in Science, Technology,
Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects |
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1. In the Government's Plan for Growth,
education is described as "the foundation of economic success".
The Government further stated that "our economy needs to
become much more dynamic ... and retooled for a high- tech future,
if we are going to create the jobs and prosperity we need for
the next generation".
The Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) warned that
"the workforce of the future will increasingly require higher-level
skills as structural adjustments in the economy force businesses
to move up the value chain. These jobs of the future will increasingly
require people with the capabilities that a STEM qualification
2. This raises the question whether the UK produces
enough STEM graduates and postgraduates to fulfil this increasing
demand and realise the Government's aspiration to use science
to underpin economic growth.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reported that "STEM
skills shortages are widespread" with over 40% of employers
currently experiencing difficulty recruiting staff with STEM qualifications.
If the UK is unable to fill today's vacancies with high quality
STEM graduates and postgraduates, there is little chance that
the economic growth that the UK needs in the future will materialise.
3. On the other hand, STEM graduates have been
increasing in recent years and we are also aware that there are
reports which indicate that a substantial number of STEM graduates
have taken up non-STEM jobs, suggesting that there might be an
over-supply or mismatch between supply and demand.
This apparent contradiction, coupled with the importance that
the Government attach to STEM as an engine of economic growth,
sparked the Committee's inquiry.
4. Higher education (HE) is devolved to Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland. For this reason, this report focuses
on England. However, some of the problems that we have encountered
and possible solutions that we propose may apply throughout the
5. We have chosen to concentrate on the areas
that we believe are of crucial importance to the supply and demand
of a STEM-skilled workforce. We consider whether the Government
are using the available levers effectively to support and influence
the HE sector to meet the UK's skills needs in order to generate
6. Although it was included in our call for evidence,
we have not covered diversity because of the activities of the
Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering in this area.
The House of Commons Health Committee is currently scrutinising
medical careers. We have, therefore, excluded this area from our
inquiry as well.
7. Given the significant attention that A level
and GCSE study is receiving, including the Department of Education
review of the National Curriculum,
we thought it inappropriate to include scrutiny of secondary education
in this inquiry. However, the weight of evidence that we have
received led us to conclude that post-16 maths and the interface
between school and HE study warranted a closer look.
8. We received substantial written evidence on
the recent HE reforms. Whilst it is too early to assess the repercussions
of the reforms for the HE sector as a whole, we have highlighted
areas of concern focusing on undergraduate and postgraduate STEM
9. The acronym "STEM" encompasses a
group of disciplines that teach the skills required for a high-tech
economy. What this means in practice, and how this definition
relates to specific courses in higher education institutions (HEIs),
is a more complex matter and the definition varies across the
HE sector and Government.
10. For the purposes of this inquiry, however,
we have adopted a definition used by the Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Higher Education Statistics
Agency (HESA). This definition uses the Joint Academic Coding
System (JACS) which classifies all subjects into 21 groups (see
Appendix 7). Within these groups, STEM classifiers are: medicine
and dentistry; subjects allied to medicine; biological sciences;
veterinary science, agriculture and related subjects; physical
sciences; mathematical sciences; computer science; engineering;
technologies; and architecture, building and planning.
11. We published a call for evidence on 2 November
2011. We received 119 written submissions. In November 2011 we
held a seminar with representatives of Government departments,
academics, employers and other stakeholders. Between December
2011 and April 2012 we held 13 oral evidence sessions, including
one with Vice-Chancellors from nine HEIs. In April, we also wrote
to 14 HEIs with specific questions on postgraduate provision and
the responses are published with the written submissions.
Structure of the report
12. The definition of STEM is a fundamental issue
underlying this inquiry. In Chapter 2, therefore, we discuss the
complexities behind this issue and the repercussions that too
wide a definition have on the analysis of relevant data. Chapter
3 focuses on the interface between school and HE maths provision.
In Chapter 4, we set out the policy context within which the HE
sector operates. We also provide some background data on trends
in STEM subjects, and discuss the supply and demand of STEM graduates
and postgraduates. Chapter 5 focuses on quality, including quality
assessment mechanisms and the involvement of employers and other
stakeholders in the process of quality assurance. In Chapter 6,
we consider recent policy reforms in HE and in immigration, and
the impact that they are having, or may have, on STEM in HE.
13. The membership and interests of Committee
Members are set out in Appendix 1. Those who submitted written
evidence and gave oral evidence are listed in Appendix 2. The
call for evidence with which we launched our inquiry is reprinted
in Appendix 3. A list of attendees at the seminar is set out in
Appendix 4, and a list of abbreviations and acronyms is provided
in Appendix 5.
14. We are grateful to all those who assisted
in our work by providing written evidence or attending oral evidence
sessions. We also thank our Specialist Adviser, Professor Sir William
Wakeham, for his expertise and guidance throughout this inquiry.
We stress, however, that the conclusions we draw and recommendations
we make are ours alone.
1 HM Treasury & BIS, The Plan for Growth,
March 2011. Back
CIHE, The demand for STEM graduates and postgraduates,
January 2009. Back
CBI, Building for Growth: Business Priorities for Education
and Skills-Education and Skills Survey, May 2011. Back
The Guardian, Job figures cast doubt on Whitehall's push for
science degrees, 11 September 2011; BBC News, Engineering
graduates "taking unskilled jobs", 8 September 2011;
The Guardian, It is nonsense to claim Britain produces too
many science graduates, 14 September 2011. Back
The Government. Back