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More must be done to address STEM skills shortages

Experts have called for employers and universities to do more to address STEM skills shortages.

Recommendations have been published by two eminent British academies, to improve the job prospects of graduates in STEM degrees.

Recommendations were published yesterday (16 May 2016) to better understand and improve the job prospects of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees, with the aim of ensuring the UK workforce has the skills to meet the long-term needs of the economy.

The recommendations were set out in reviews conducted by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Professor Sir William Wakeham. Employment outcomes and more real-life work experience were among suggestions into how universities and employers can help development a generation of highly-skilled graduates in crucial subjects.

The findings coincide with yesterday’s publication of the government’s white paper, Success as a knowledge economy, which sets out plans to improve the quality of teaching with UK higher education.

The government commissioned the Shadbolt review, which investigated why computer science graduates experienced lower employment rates in recent years, compared to graduates from other disciplines despite growth in the digital sector. They also commissioned the Wakeham review to scrutinise whether STEM courses that are crucial to the economy, also suffer from poorer graduate outcomes.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “I’m extremely grateful to both Sir William and Sir Nigel for their thorough reviews into graduate employment outcomes and I welcome their clear emphasis on the importance of building much closer links between universities and employers.

“The UK has a world-class higher education system but, as these reviews recognise, more must be done to address the variability in outcomes for some graduates and to ensure all students receive the highest quality teaching. That’s why we are taking action to reform our higher education system, and the findings in these reviews provide valuable insights to ensure students and employers get the best returns on their investment.

There remains an unemployment rate of 11.7% for computer science graduates six months after graduation, with the Shadbolt review of computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability, revealing a lack of work experience is to blame. It also highlighted the need to improve the engagement between universities and employers, and disagreement amongst employers in whether graduates should be taught fundamental principles of computer science, or skills that reflect current technologies.

Both reviews identified that students would benefits from universities and employers working together and that professional bodies need to strengthen their accreditation systems so they support universities in delivering high-level STEM skills that are most relevant in the industry.

The government’s proposed “Teaching Excellence Framework” will introduce reputational and financial rewards for universities based largely on their success in supporting all students into employment or further studies. This type of data on graduate job prospects will also help applicants have a clear view of how different courses will lead directly to specific employment.