The Royal Academy of Engineering today publishes two reports resulting from a programme of work between the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) community and government. Both relate to the wide range of STEM qualifications gained by people studying in the Further Education and Skills sector.

FE STEM Data Project – July 2011 provides, for the first time, insight into the ways the Further Education and Skills sector in England contributes to the STEM education and training of young people and adults.

The key findings are:

- Lower level qualifications dominate provision in the FE and Skills sector and there is a relative lack of Higher Level (Level 4+) STEM provision. Although a number of colleges have developed portfolios of higher Level STEM provision (HNDs, foundation degrees and first degrees in STEM subjects), not enough have done so to meet the significant Level 4+ ambitions of young people and the Higher Level STEM skills needed by employers.

- There is significant interdependence between FE and schools in the provision of STEM to young people. For example, more STEM qualifications are taken in the FE and Skills sector than in schools but the majority of Level 3 STEM completions (mostly A/AS levels in Science and Mathematics) happen in schools. Sixth Form Colleges are also important providers of STEM A Levels in many localities but these vital institutions are often overlooked by public policy. Government needs to strengthen further the bridges between BIS and the DfE, to ensure that intermediate (Level 3) STEM provision, which is vital for the formation of technician skills and to the progression hopes of young people, is properly developed.

- There is marked variability in STEM participation around the country and over time (even between consecutive years). There seems to be little stability or consistency in the provision of STEM skills, little connection to labour market trends and an over-responsiveness to funding incentives.

- There is a relative shortage of STEM Apprenticeships, particularly those at advanced level for young people which are vital for social mobility.

The second report, The labour market value of STEM qualifications and occupations (343.66 KB) is the first research toquantify wage returns from STEM qualifications at all levels -not only for degrees but also for lower level qualifications taken in the FE and Skills sector. It is the first step towards our goal as a national Academy to quantify the economic value of STEM skills to the nation.

It shows a significant economic advantage to the individualof working in a STEM occupation (a 19% wage premium). It shows that many qualifications offer significant wage premium when they are in a STEM subject. The STEM wage premium is particularly significant for people working below managerial level (i.e. STEM technicians).

Many STEM qualifications, but importantly not all, are shown to provide wage premia.

Wage returns vary between the disciplines with engineering and technology providing the best returns to the individual.

The report shows that the STEM careers advice given to young people needs to be carefully nuanced.

Professor Matthew Harrison, Director of Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, who led the research on these reports, says: “STEM qualifications underpin the performance of the science base, health sector, IT sector and engineering industries. Further education has a vital role in providing STEM skills and we have shown that good qualifications at this level provide an earnings premium. However, it is crucial that we get the right mix of courses being offered and right now there is a relative shortage of certain STEM provision: apprenticeships and higher level courses in particular.”

Skills and FE Minister John Hayes said: “This work is an excellent example ofpartnersandGovernment working together and using their collective expertise to deliver something which undoubtedly provides a rich source of information and moves us forward considerably in understanding the nature and complexity of STEM in further education.

“This will help put STEM subjects, which are so crucial for growth, on a surer footing within the FE and Skills sector and the Department will continue to work closely through the Royal Academy of Engineering, and other partners and providers, to ensure that the FE sector is positioned to provide the skills that industry needs.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering

    Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Ed Holmes on 0207 766 0655