Strategic fallacy

December 16, 2010

David Eastwood denies that the Browne Review panel was biased towards science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and yet artlessly concedes that the proposals were designed to protect such "strategic" subjects ("Eastwood takes aim at conspiracy theorists", 9 December). In what sense are STEM subjects "strategic"? Precious little empirical evidence has been offered to support this contention.

According to a report published by the Royal Society in July 2009, 82 per cent of STEM graduates are employed in the service industries, a profile that is little different from humanities and social science graduates. Is the putative unique contribution of STEM graduates reflected in national economic performance? Again, there's little evidence: the economic powerhouses currently producing more STEM graduates than the UK include Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Industry may claim that it struggles to recruit STEM graduates, but that may be its fault. According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the average starting salary of a graduate engineer is £22,000 - £3,000 less than the average for all graduates.

If these "strategic" subjects are in such demand, surely business will find it "strategic" to fund bursaries to allow students to study these higher-cost subjects and pay them attractive salaries once they graduate?

It makes no sense to design a funding regime that distorts curricula in order to produce more STEM graduates who will in all likelihood take jobs in such strategically vital areas as human resources (average graduate starting salary: £26,000).

Gervase Phillips, Principal lecturer in history, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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