Service industries are main destination of STEM graduates

Royal Society seeks more recognition of the ‘large pool of scientists’ in sectors from finance to retail. Hannah Fearn writes

July 22, 2009

Expertise in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects is widespread within the service industries in Britain, according to a new report by the Royal Society.

The analysis, published on 22 July, shows that service industries, which comprise sectors from finance to retail, employ 82 per cent of STEM graduates.

The publication of the report, Hidden Wealth: The Contribution of Science to Service Sector Innovation, comes in the wake of the Government’s announcement this week of 10,000 extra places to ease the squeeze on student numbers, but only in STEM-related courses.

The report shows that demand for these skills is not limited to obvious areas of industry.

David Rhind, chair of the working group that drew up the Royal Society report, said there was now “a large pool of scientists in the widest sense [of the term] out there doing STEM-type things”.

“In many cases, this involves use and development of STEM tools rather than fundamental research,” he said.

He added that the presence of so many scientists in the service industries meant that knowledge exchange was now a two-way street between universities and the sector.

But he added that the “invisibility” of STEM as a driving force of the service industries had implications for public policy and for universities.

The report sets out plans for integrating the sector into policy debates in recognition of its wealth of STEM expertise.

It calls for the creation of “research communities” for the service industries, and for universities to develop placements within the sector for its STEM students.

Professor Rhind said: “The service sector generates between half and three quarters of the world’s wealth and accounts for more than 80 per cent of employment in the UK.

“Despite this, little research has been done into how innovation, which drives the expansion of the sector, develops.

“The Royal Society report identifies science and related subjects as startlingly significant in this development, which is intrinsically linked to the growth of the UK economy in the future and our emergence from recession.”

Responding to the report’s recommendations, Ian Diamond, chair of Research Councils UK, announced that the research councils would now work with the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority to improve mathematical modelling and reduce risk in the banking sector, as recommended by the report.

Professor Diamond said: “Research councils, with the Bank of England, have already identified the scope for working together on a project… I am delighted that we are moving to implement one of the report’s recommendations.”

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