Press release

Experts call for employers and universities to do more to address STEM skills shortages

Two eminent British academics have published their recommendations to improve the job prospects of graduates in STEM degrees.

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  • eminent British academics call for a stronger focus on employment outcomes and better links with industry
  • today’s reports reveal wide variation in the job prospects of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects
  • recommendations come as government plans reforms to give students more information about the employment outcomes of different degree courses

Two eminent British academics have today (16 May 2016) published their recommendations to better understand and improve the job prospects of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees and ensure the UK workforce can meet the long-term needs of the economy.

A stronger focus on employment outcomes and more real-life work experience were among the recommendations set out in the reviews conducted by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Professor Sir William Wakeham into how universities and employers can help develop a pipeline of highly-skilled graduates in these crucial subjects. These findings coincide with the publication today of the government’s white paper, Success as a knowledge economy, which sets out plans to improve the quality of teaching within UK higher education.

The government commissioned:

  • the Shadbolt review to investigate why computer sciences graduates have in recent years experienced lower employment rates, when compared to graduates from other disciplines, despite the growth across the digital sector
  • the Wakeham review to scrutinise whether some STEM courses, that are crucial to economic growth and productivity, also suffer from poorer graduate outcomes

The findings come as the government plans reforms to higher education to raise teaching quality and deliver real value for money for students.

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.

Despite figures showing that the UK needs over half a million additional workers in the digital sector by 2022, there remains an unemployment rate of 11.7% for computer sciences graduates 6 months after graduation (above the 8.6% average for STEM graduates). The Shadbolt review of computer sciences degree accreditation and graduate employability revealed a lack of work experience amongst graduates, the need to improve engagement between universities and employers, and disagreement amongst employers on whether graduates should be taught fundamental principles of computer science, or skills that reflect current technologies.

Alongside more detailed recommendations, both reviews identified that:

  • students would benefit from universities and employers working together to expand and improve the array of work experience opportunities available - embedding the learning from work experience more consistently in degree programmes
  • professional bodies need to strengthen their accreditation systems so they support universities to deliver high-level STEM skills that are most relevant to industry

The reviews also provide further evidence of the need to improve the availability of employment data – evidence which have helped inform proposals outlined by the government’s higher education white paper and Teaching Excellence Framework. The government’s proposed Teaching Excellence Framework will for the first time introduce reputational and financial rewards for universities based on, among other things, their success supporting all students into employment or further study. Improved data on graduate job prospects will also help applicants understand how course choices lead to different employment outcomes.

The Wakeham review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability identified biological sciences; earth, marine and environmental sciences; and agriculture, animal science and food science as subjects of particular concern and requiring further investigation.

Notes to editors

Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt FREng FBCS

Sir Nigel is Principal of Jesus College, Oxford and Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford. He is also a Visiting Professor in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. He is Chairman and Co-Founder of the Open Data Institute (ODI). Launched in December 2012, the ODI focuses on unlocking supply and stimulating demand for open data. It promotes the creation of economic, environment and societal value from open data releases.

His review can be found at Computer science degree accreditation and graduate employability.

Sir William (Bill) Wakeham FREng

Bill is a British chemical engineer. From 2001 to 2009 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton. He served as a Research Associate at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1971 appointed lecturer in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemical Technology at Imperial College, London. He was successively Reader in 1979, Professor of Chemical Physics in 1985, and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering in 1988.

His review can be found at STEM degree provision and graduate employability.

Published 16 May 2016