Science graduates 'lack skills needed by business'

 
Engineering student using computer at Imperial College London The report looked at engineering and other science degree courses

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Universities are not producing enough science graduates with the skills needed by UK industry, a report says.

The Lords Science and Technology Committee calls for immediate action to boost student numbers in science, technology, engineering and maths at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Too many students start science courses with weak maths skills, it says.

Report chairman Lord Willis said he was "gobsmacked" by figures which showed few who had studied maths beyond GCSE.

The report notes that the government's Plan for Growth attached great importance to education and the hi-tech industry to create jobs and prosperity.

Skill shortage

But it highlights a lack of key skills which extends from too few young people studying maths beyond GCSE to too few students taking postgraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects.

The sub-committee that produced the report said they were shocked that so many Stem undergraduates did not have A-level mathematics.

The figures showed that around 70% of biology undergraduates, 38% of chemistry and economics undergraduates and 10% of engineering students did not have A-level maths.

The report team even found evidence that even an A* in A-level mathematics was no guarantee that students would be able to cope with a university science course.

Lord Willis said: "When you have a university like Cambridge saying that even with an A* in mathematics we are having to give remedial maths in order to study engineering there is something not quite right if we are going to produce the very best to compete with the world.

"In reality the quality of the Stem graduates coming out of universities does not meet the requirements of industry and in fact is ultimately not even likely to meet the requirements of academia."

The report says that, without action, the government risks failing to meet its objective of driving economic growth through education and hi-tech industries.

It recommends that maths should be compulsory for all students after 16 and calls for universities to toughen their maths requirements for entry to Stem courses and to get more involved in the school maths curriculum.

Sir William Wakeham of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a specialist adviser to the committee, said the pharmaceutical industry in particular needed biology graduates with good statistical skills to analyse the effects of new drugs.

The report also urges universities to improve the quality of their own teaching and to involve industry in the content of Stem courses to ensure graduates are employable.

'Soft' sciences

The committee raises concerns that graduates of "soft" sciences such as forensic or sport science are less employable than those with degrees in traditional subjects like chemistry.

Despite this, the report says the number of UK students taking "soft" sciences has soared. Graduates in sport science, for example, more than doubled to more than 8,000 between 2003 and 2010.

During the same period, the number of engineering graduates fell by 3% to 12,080 and of computer science graduates by 27% to 11,400.

The report says the government is not doing enough to attract bright students to postgraduate Stem courses.

It suggests that recent reforms to university finances and student funding, together with controls on overseas students, could weaken the quality and number of postgraduate courses at UK universities.

The government said: "Every sector of the economy relies on universities to produce highly skilled graduates.‬

"The numbers of Stem students are going up, and application rates remain strong. The Government are committed to building on this. We have protected science funding, and are now working with employers and universities to ensure people get the skills the country needs."

 

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  • rate this
    +40

    Comment number 155.

    I graduated computing science about 6 years ago. Skills in development are just not valued highly enough by businesses. I used to see non-educated blaggers earning more than I was in sales or director roles, all they do is shake hands with other blaggers. Doesnt make it attractive to students when all they can hope for is a 35k a year job. Especially when they have to spend 9k a year on uni!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 154.

    The problem is, that most people with a very high intellect in maths are hired by the banks to derive the complex equations used in derivatives trading....and the banks pay them millions!!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 153.

    Another victory for inclusivism. Refusing to weed out the duffers and stretch the high-flyers is resulting in mediocre courses taught by mediocre teachers in mediocre schools with mediocre results. Comprehensive one-size-for-all education has reduced social mobility, not increased it. Look at where all the current top people went to school. Back to selection and streaming!

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 152.

    Well me and my lab mates have been talking, if we're all unemployed come next election, we'll show you how to run a country, democracy 3.0! If we scientists have positively got to do everything, then we will.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 151.

    9 MINUTES AGO
    135.Miss T Fied
    Weird view point. surely there has never a been greater need for new science / technology than now?
    We stand at the edge of climate disaster and over population.
    The ONLY thing that is going to avert disaster is good science. If it wasn't for scientific advances in agriculture we'd already be facing mass starvation.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 150.

    Common sense, get rid of mickey mouse courses like sports science which should be done at college not university. Engineering and science is what gives us jobs and cutting edge products so all education from a young age should mandatory teach science engineering and maths.

  • rate this
    -18

    Comment number 149.

    "Why are Scientists (By definition the cleverest of people) the worst paid?"

    Since when are scientists by definition the cleverest people? Comments like that don't really help any argument....

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 148.

    This is what you have- Just to make sure 50% more students go to university.

    When a system is working and we were the envy of the world regarding education- Then just for the sake of social engineering- why did we have to "Mend It".!

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 147.

    Science Graduates have been underrewarded in so many ways for so long that it is regarded as normal. The prejudice starts with the idea that you "train" for Science but are "educated" in the Arts. Unfortunately, that kind of snobbery is one of the many reasons that Science graduates go and do something other than Science. Why do Science when Banking pays better - which you discover on graduation.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 146.

    This report fails to point out that this has always been the case. Fewer of a skill simply means higher reward for those with that skill, this is called a market and how things should be. If Universities have been changing their output lately it's due to constant government interference.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 145.

    There are many issues:

    1. Low pay (relative to the skill level required).
    2. University training is not job training, companies are wanting someone who's done the job they are advertising for the last 3 years.
    3. Underinvestment.

    Are but a few.

    The problem is not the Universities, they are doing what they've always done.

    The problem is industry not investing in people.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 144.

    What should be happening is, that the Government should have a plan for the future, thereby knowing what skills will be needed. Then, subsidising the University places for the skills they need and all other University courses will be paid by the Students through student loans as it is now.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 143.

    I finished my PhD studies at university in a science subject with a conviction that more economic growth is exactly what we *don't* need if we are to create a sustainable future and halt the environmental destruction we're causing.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 142.

    There are literally millions of jobs that do not need the applicant to be a graduate. Requiring applicants for these jobs to be a graduate or have a qualification is a form of exclusion criteria to ensure that applications are limited. Whenever an applicant comes across this requirement for a job that clearly doesn`t require a degree or qualification to do it, they should challenge it

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 141.

    120.Martin

    Make the science/engineering qualifications free, or at least cheaper, at the expense of the not so useful degrees....
    --------------------
    I agree entirely. However, it would probably just encourage people with lower levels of interest/ability to do it - those who are actually keen on science & engineering will probably be doing it anyway.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 140.

    136.
    Mustafa Yorumcu
    2 Minutes ago

    135.Miss T Fied
    1 Minute Ago
    Maybe we've already got most (not all) of the science and technology we need ?

    --

    I am sure millions made a similar statement in 10000 years of recorded human history.

    One was a suggestion in USA in about 1900 to close the patent office because everything that could be invented already had been.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 139.

    Scientists are the unsung heroes of society. Unfortunately, this has to do with politicians/administrators who expect major scientific advances on a meagre budget and with terrible professional prospects for some of the brightest minds in the country. We really don't need more under-qualified science graduates entering this unrewarding career path - we need to make it a rewarding one first.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 138.

    Isn't this a good reason to employ experienced engineers/scientists and retrain them in current technology instead of throwing them on the scrapheap in favour of relatively uneducated youngsters.
    A high proportion of older engineers were taught the maths necessary to do the job proving that inflating the grades for political gain has totally failed.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 137.

    122. Kristal Tips
    "So - you DID need the maths and your university is compensating at the detriment of others on your course."

    I never said I did not need to know the maths, only that the A-level offered by my school was useless to me, which it was. Also, I doubt the maths module was anymore detrimental to those with the A-level than the chemistry module to those with that A-level; not at all.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 136.

    135.Miss T Fied
    1 Minute Ago
    Maybe we've already got most (not all) of the science and technology we need ?

    --

    I am sure millions made a similar statement in 10000 years of recorded human history.

 

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