Briefings & Evidence

Thought piece for the Scottish Government’s STEM Education Committee

The STEM Education Committee is an independent advisory group set up by the Scottish Government to support and galvanise action to improve STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – education and learning in Scotland’s schools, career advice related to STEM, and public science engagement. It is tasked with taking forward work on the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group’s report on STEM from 2012.

In 2015 the Group asked us for a contribution from Universities Scotland on the issues facing STEM in higher education. This ‘thought piece’ aimed to set out some of the challenges, pose questions and potential answers. The full submission can be downloaded here and a summary is provided below.

At the university level STEM is in big demand. In 2013, STEM graduates were some of the most highly sought-after with 42% of employers preferring STEM-qualified graduates. However, 22% of employers said that they had found difficulty recruiting staff with STEM expertise. The number of students studying STEM subjects at undergraduate level has increased marginally in recent years as the result of a concerted drive and the creation of additional places. But to really match demand there needs to be more work at school level to ensure there are enough pupils, of both genders, studying STEM at Higher and Advanced Higher. Close engagement between schools and universities can help with this.

Curriculum for Excellence presents opportunities as far as STEM is concerned. Higher education is supportive of CfE and believe its interdisciplinary approach to learning offers many benefits. We do feel, however, that a strong grounding in disciplines and subject knowledge is essential for the development of a higher-level of education. We are encouraged by comments from teachers who believe that CfE is being delivered in a way that will enhance subject knowledge.

There is a big gender issue when it comes to STEM. Scottish Females are generally overrepresented at every SCQF level from undergraduate through to PhD however women are substantially underrepresented in: engineering; IT; and architecture, building and planning. In these subjects women make up approximately 20 per cent of students compared to mean’s 80 per cent. Again, the best response to rebalance gender in these subject areas is close working between schools and universities to influence and support pupils from a young age.

More information on the STEMEC can be found on the Scottish Government’s website.