Economy needs '10,000 extra science graduates'

The UK needs to educate at least an extra 10,000 science graduates a year just to maintain its current industrial position, a major new report has concluded.

October 1, 2012

The Royal Academy of Engineering report, Jobs and Growth: the Importance of Engineering Skills to the UK Economy, seeks to provide evidence for the value of engineering skills to the economy and to probe industry's common complaints about the shortage of such skills.

It calculates that the UK needs an annual minimum of 100,000 graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) just to maintain the status quo in UK industry. It says more would be needed if the sector were to expand and help grow the economy.

However, currently only 90,000 STEM graduates are produced each year - around a quarter of whom go on to work in non-scientific careers.

The report, published today, says further evidence that demand for STEM graduates outstrips supply can be seen in the significant wage premium earned by those with an engineering degree - which has grown during the last 20 years even as the premium for other degrees has fallen.

It also notes that the median age of chartered engineers rises by a decade every 14 years.

It says independent models predict shortages of STEM-qualified people for all occupational levels within science, engineering and technology careers, due to skilled people leaving the labour market and expansions in the building of nuclear power stations and vehicle manufacture.

The report's author, Matthew Harrison, director of engineering and education at the academy, said: "As rising wages and wide distribution of set occupations in the economy show, STEM qualifications are portable and valuable. All young people should have access to them as a means of social mobility and to strengthen the economy."

The report also says UK economic analysis and forecasting is hampered in areas related to engineering by an inappropriately broad and "impoverished" definition of the discipline.

Sir John Parker, president of the academy, congratulated the government for "taking on board the message that a proper industrial strategy is essential for effective and sustained economic recovery".

"Only with such a framework and vision in place can we create 'the pull' that defines our future educational and skills needs. We must encourage employers to work with universities with the aim of producing more engineers," he said.

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