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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
An inquiry into science, technology, engineering and maths degrees has raised serious concerns about the employment record of some courses, including biological sciences.
The Wakeham Review, commissioned by the government in 2014, has found that too many graduates on some STEM degrees are ending up in non-graduate and low paid jobs.
As well as biological sciences, which had more than 18,000 undergraduate entrants in 2014/15, serious concerns were raised about earth, marine and environmental sciences and agriculture, animal sciences and food sciences.
To tackle the problem, universities need to ensure that graduates complete work experience as part of their course, improve their “soft” skills, and are clear about career opportunities, says a report on the review’s findings.
In a series of focus groups, employers said that universities were failing to produce “work-ready” graduates. For instance, only half of respondents from business or industry thought that biological sciences graduates met the employability requirements of industry. Recruiters complained of a lack of flexibility and resilience.
Poor maths and quantitative skills were also identified as a problem.
The review report recommends stronger collaboration between HE providers and employers to better align the supply and demand for STEM skills. Accreditation of degrees by professional bodies was highlighted as one of the most successful ways for industry to have input into courses.
Sir William Wakeham, chair of a 23-strong advisory group that led the review, also stressed the importance of early career advice.
“Careers advice should play a stronger role in STEM degrees and that as a general principle graduates ought to be encouraged to, and in practice, take greater responsibility for understanding, developing and engaging with their potential future career path,” he said.
Lower level concerns were also raised about graduate employment outcomes in Biomedical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Design.
The review said that further in-depth and targeted work to improve employability rates should be carried out in all the disciplines causing concern.
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