Students’ numeracy skills aren’t good enough for STEM jobs
A report by the Lords Science and Technology Committee has concluded today that graduates are found to lack the numeracy skills required by employers for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs.
The report recognises that high-quality STEM provisions can be the driving force for economic growth. However, it discovered that only 15 per cent of all students in England continue to study mathematics beyond the age of 16, and even then they are not studying to the same level as in other countries.
Baron Willis of Knaresborough, Chair of the Lords Sub-Committee on Higher Education in STEM subjects, has noted the large shortage of students with the necessary skills expected in employment. Many undergraduates studying traditional ‘hard science’ subjects had not studied maths at A-level, and even those who had, did not have the sufficient level of knowledge required for their degrees.
He said, “When you have the Vice-Chancellor of [the University of] Cambridge saying, ‘We get nothing but A* students, yet we have to do remedial maths for them to engage with engineering and physics,’ there is something seriously wrong with the system.”
Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said “The issue of insufficient skills is a very pressing concern for UK industry and the three per cent drop in engineering graduates between 2003 and 2010 is very worrying. UK sectors like automotive and aerospace manufacturing are growing, and have the potential to spearhead the country’s economic recovery, but only if they are able to recruit people with the right skills.
“A survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers earlier this year found that 76 per cent of manufacturers are recruiting, but that 41 per cent are struggling to find people with the right skills.”
In light of these findings, the report has recommended that studying mathematics in some form be made compulsory for all students after the age of 16. One suggestion made was to tailor mathematic curriculum to suit the needs of the student, “For example, prospective engineering students would require mechanics as part of their post-16 maths, whereas prospective biology students would benefit from studying statistics.”
It also recommends that maths should be a requirement for all students hoping to study a STEM subject in higher education and that suggested that HE providers themselves have more of a say in what students are taught before they continue their education. The report states, “We urge that HEIs work together to establish where the skills gaps are and which areas of the maths syllabus are essential for STEM undergraduate study”.
By Danielle Eades