The Campaign for Science and Engineering welcomes the government’s long-term commitment to capital investment in infrastructure announced as part of the recent spending review. We note that the entire programme – from building roads, schools and hospitals to investment in high-speed rail networks, nuclear power stations, flood defences and high-speed fibre-optic communications for all – is underpinned by science and engineering.
This ambitious programme needs a skilled workforce to carry it out, but recent reports have highlighted a notable skills shortage in UK engineering. Engineering UK 2013: The State of Engineering claims that we need to double the number of graduates and apprentices in the discipline by 2020 to meet demand, while the 2013 skills survey by the Institution of Engineering and Technology underlines the existing shortages facing employers.
Confirming the concerns of industry, the CBI’s Education and Skills Survey shows that 39 per cent of firms “are struggling to recruit workers with the advanced, technical STEM skills they need”, with 41 per cent saying that shortages will persist for the next three years.
Of course, the graduate pipeline comes from our schools. The Institute of Physics has highlighted the stark drop in the number of talented girls studying the subject between GCSE and A level in its report It’s Different for Girls, and has pointed to the value of the state-funded Stimulating Physics Network in reversing this trend.
Engineering is costly to deliver and the Higher Education Funding Council for England recognises that this cost is not covered fully by tuition fees. The additional cash Hefce provides through its policy on strategically important and vulnerable subjects is welcome. Additionally, university departments need to budget for infrastructure and equipment upgrades to keep them at the cutting edge of research and training for the benefit of students and employers.
The capital infrastructure plans have great potential for job and wealth creation, but the government must invest in teaching and training to create the generation of UK scientists and engineers required to make it a reality.
Director, Campaign for Science and Engineering