Lords not satisfied with the Government response to their higher education in STEM subjects report

14 November 2012

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has received the Government response to its report: Higher Education (HE) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. The Chairman of the Sub-Committee who conducted the inquiry, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, is pleased that the Government recognises the economic contribution of STEM graduates, and the need to support the provision of STEM graduates where market failure occurs.

Commenting, Lord Willis said:

“I am delighted that the Government has taken the points raised in our report seriously, but I am disappointed about the lack of action promised in the response.

“There is little point in having an industrial strategy based around developments in science and technology if the Government don’t give an equal priority to developing the STEM workforce.”

In particular, Lord Willis expressed dissatisfaction that:

  • The Government does not consider there to be a need to set up an independent expert group tasked with considering the supply and demand of STEM postgraduate provision. There is significant potential for damage to provision in the coming years from the “triple whammy” of immigration rules, fees and the lack of finance available to postgraduate students. As the report recommended, Government needs to recognise that this is a national issue that requires national action. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should not be tasked with handling this issue on their own;
  • Government has not proposed sufficient action to ensure that those entering STEM higher education have an adequate level of mathematical understanding to meet their needs. Given the importance of mathematics to those studying STEM at university, the poor performance of the UK in international mathematics education league tables, and the concerns from universities about the lack of maths skills of new students, it is disappointing that Government is not doing more to lead and facilitate the process in collaboration with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and others. Instead they seem to be relinquishing responsibilities completely;
  • The response failed to outline how Government will ensure that Parliament has sufficient opportunity to scrutinise HE reforms in the future, which will not pass through primary legislation; and
  • The Government does not recognise the need to investigate the potential impact of their immigration policies further.

The Committee will carefully review the response in the coming weeks to consider how to take these issues forward, and look forward to a debate about the report and response in the House.

The Committee’s report, Higher Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and the Government’s response, are available on the Committee’s webpage.

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