Universities falling short on STEM, say employers

Universities are not producing enough science graduates to meet the needs of the UK economy, business leaders have claimed.

October 13, 2013

Six in ten employers of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates think there is a skills gap in the UK that will take more than 10 years to close, according to a YouGov poll of 300 senior managers at UK companies.

Some 83 per cent of businesses say the skills gap needs to be bridged in order for the UK to be competitive in the world economy, according to the research commissioned by Cambridge-based software firm MathWorks.

In its STEM Skills Gap Report, published on 11 October, the firm also examines attitudes of academics at 24 research-intensive universities on how industry-university collaboration could be increased.

Over half (52 per cent) of employers and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of academics say industry does not currently work closely enough with universities.

More than six in ten (63 per cent) of businesses think industry should have a greater say and make a greater investment in the STEM curriculum in the UK, but universities are less enthusiastic, with just 46 per cent of academics welcoming this type of industry involvement.

Some 61 per cent of businesses surveyed recommend more project-based learning in STEM subjects to engage students in the investigation of science and real-world engineering problems. However, only a third (34 per cent) of the academics polled thought the same.

Coorous Mohtadi, a MathWorks spokesman, said the report shows more should be done to encourage students to study STEM subjects in tertiary education.

It also indicates that STEM curricula need to better reflect the requirements of industry, he added

“The different approaches to addressing the STEM skills gap are interesting and highlight the need for greater collaboration between industry and academia,” said Dr Mohtadi.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

75% of the UK economy is services, student study choices apparently reflect this pattern - a longstanding trend which has resulted in resources prioritisation in HE away from expensive STEM subjects as demand declined (and continues), particularly maths and engineering. Companies specifically needing STEM qualified students could perhaps focus on investing in the new UTC, studio and specialist technical academy schools and develop their particular requirements through the new Advanced and Higher Apprenticeship schemes which combine both academic and NVQ elements - not an easy option for a relatively weak SME industrial sector, particularly in the run-down regions I suppose.
We (GTI Media) ran a Breakfast event back in April with top graduate recruiters to discuss the shortage of STEM graduates. The conclusions that were drawn were there are enough STEM graduates but not enough of them want to work in technical roles. This is because the roles don't sound exciting enough and the salaries are lower than for other sectors. There is also the problem of the recruiters 2:1 selection criteria. A lot of excellent science and engineering graduates will get a 2:2 so are automatically excluded from selection. Therefore, this gap could be closed by changing the way STEM roles are marketed to graduates, offering competitive salaries and changing recruitment procedures.

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