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According to a recent BBC article (18th October 2013) there is a huge gap between girls and boys studying STEM subjects - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The report revealed that the UK has a massive skills gap, with only 17% of the UK's tech jobs being held by women. In STEM subjects, generally women make up just 13% of the workforce. In Engineering, women fare even worse, taking up just 8% of the jobs.
“The STEM colloquium presented an invaluable opportunity to address the most pressing issues for STEM education in West Yorkshire."
David Smith, Dean of Higher Education
The UK is the sixth largest manufacturer worldwide, with Engineering alone generating £800 billion per year. It is therefore widely recognised that a vibrant STEM sector is vital to the long term success of the UK economy. Despite STEM professionals having the potential to earn some of the highest salaries, employers and their representative agencies regularly report difficulties recruiting skilled and experienced staff.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the number of young women wanting to study Computer Science was even lower at the University of Cambridge with just 12.2 per cent of applicants in 2011-12 in contrast to Bradford College with 15 per cent. What’s more at the University of Cambridge, only two of seventy undergraduates accepted for its Computer Science courses who applied in 2010-11 were female.
A report published by ‘Women in Global Science and Technology’, Brazil punches above its weight, ranking highest overall in the representation of women in Science and Technology. South Africa and India also score well. The report cites that much of this is down to programmes that support women in the workforce, good funding for education and research and support of female entrepreneurship.
Bradford College has been making an important contribution to the promotion of STEM education and training for a number of years. In December 2012, Bradford College hosted the first of two colloquiums aimed at raising the profile of STEM education and at enhancing existing forms of dialogue between education and training providers, employers and their representative agencies.
The colloquium created an informal environment in which interested parties, including academics, education providers and employers, could engage in discussion and debate on a range of STEM related topics, including the limited take-up of some STEM subjects by girls.
Delegates heard an address from keynote speaker Dr Sarah Peers, Director of Programmes at the Innovation Institute and Vice President and Trustee at Women's Engineering Society. Dr Peers is a champion for the promotion of Engineering and Technology and policy for STEM education and training at all levels and for all. Key notes were also presented by other leading academics and experts during the day long colloquium, including Ian McGregor Brown representing the HEART partnership.
During afternoon workshops, delegates explored topics relating to ‘Negative perceptions of STEM subjects amongst teachers, pupils and school authorities’; ‘The need for more co-operation with and direct engagement between schools, colleges and universities; and the related need to share market intelligence’ and ‘A lack of alignment between supply and demand for STEM skills’.
As an outcome of the colloquium, a STEM Advisory Group was established in September 2012, led by Bradford College. The aim being to co-ordinate a range of activities relating to employer engagement and capacity building in the various STEM related business sectors.
“Our courses are designed to ensure they address the STEM agenda. One of our most successful degrees is Computer Networks and Systems Support, where we built in a range of professional qualifications, Microsoft and Cisco for example, so the students get those qualifications alongside their academic qualification. That places us squarely within the STEM agenda.”
Bradford College Lecturer, Matthew Bentley
The colloquium revealed that providers were generally aware of the needs of employers with regard to STEM education and training, but that there was a significant degree of reluctance on the part of the employer to commit the necessary funds, particularly for long-term programmes of study at this difficult time in the economic cycle. Businesses in turn reported a mismatch between their needs and the available offer.
Mindful of these differing perspectives, a follow up colloquium, aimed at addressing a range of topical questions relating to STEM Education and training will be organised later in the year.
Bradford College Lecturer, Matthew Bentley commented: “Our courses are designed to ensure they address the STEM agenda. One of our most successful degrees is Computer Networks and Systems Support, where we built in a range of professional qualifications, Microsoft and Cisco for example, so the students get those qualifications alongside their academic qualification. That places us squarely within the STEM agenda.”
Following the success of the first STEM colloquium, there are now plans to host a range of follow up events, including the development of a STEM education/employer forum.
David Smith, Dean of Higher Education said in closing the event: “The STEM colloquium presented an invaluable opportunity to address the most pressing issues for STEM education in West Yorkshire. Dr Peers’ key note set the scene for an excellent day; and the various workshops which followed contributed to a very successful event.”