Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Experts call for employers and universities to do more to address STEM skills shortages

Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Professor Sir William Wakeham have published the findings of their independent reviews into how universities and employers can help develop a pipeline of highly-skilled graduates in the crucial subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to ensure the UK workforce can meet the long-term needs of the economy.

The Shadbolt review looked at the accreditation arrangements for computer science degrees to ensure that they continue to be fit for the future. It focused on the purpose and role of accreditation and how the system can support the skills requirements of employers and improve graduate employability.

Computer sciences graduates have in recent years experienced lower employment rates, when compared to graduates from other disciplines, despite the growth across the digital sector. Unemployment stands at 11.7% for computer science graduates after 6 months, compared to an 8.6% average for all STEM graduates.

The Wakeham review looked at the employment situation among other STEM graduates, who suffer from relatively poor employment outcomes. The report focused on the skills requirements of employers, how STEM graduates’ skills and knowledge relate to labour market demands, and how existing accreditation systems support this.

The review identified the following subjects as needing further research - biological sciences; earth, marine and environmental sciences; and agriculture, animal science and food science.

Both reviews identified:
  • That students would benefit from universities and employers working together to expand and improve the array of work experience opportunities available - embedding the learning from work experience more consistently in degree programmes.
  • That professional bodies need to strengthen their accreditation systems so they support universities to deliver high-level STEM skills that are most relevant to industry. 
  • The need to improve the collection and publication of data on graduate job prospects. Helping applicants understand how course choices lead to different employment outcomes. This recommendation has been developed into proposals for the provision of employment data in the Government’s higher education white paper, Teaching Excellence Framework, which will see the introduction of reputational and financial rewards for universities based on, among other things, their success supporting all students into employment or further study. 
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said ”I’m extremely grateful to both Sir William and Sir Nigel for their thorough reviews into graduate employment outcomes and I welcome their clear emphasis on the importance of building much closer links between universities and employers.

The UK has a world-class higher education system but, as these reviews recognise, more must be done to address the variability in outcomes for some graduates and to ensure all students receive the highest quality teaching. That’s why we are taking action to reform our higher education system, and the findings in these reviews provide valuable insights to ensure students and employers get the best returns on their investment”

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