Three-year drive to boost STEM will raise student numbers and aid economy

Posted on Monday 15th June 2009

Further details have been announced for the £20 million national programme starting this summer that aims to increase the number of students graduating from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses. The programme also aims to make a significant contribution to meeting the skills needs of local economies.

Using £20 million from HEFCE, with a further £1 million from HEFCW, and running for three years, the National Higher Education STEM programme will be hosted by the University of Birmingham.

Resources will be channelled through six regional centres led by higher education institutions (HEIs) in the Midlands, North East, North West, South East, South West and Wales. 

The programme will build on the activity, experience and expertise developed within four pilot projects: Chemistry for our Future, Stimulating Physics, the London Engineering Project and More Maths Grads. The professional bodies and learned societies that are already leading these demand-raising projects will continue to be involved in the national phase of the initiative.

As well as increasing and widening participation in the key STEM disciplines the national programme will address the needs of employers through helping to develop more responsive and flexible curricula in the STEM disciplines, and upskilling the current workforce.

The programme will include:

• outreach, enhancement and enrichment delivered to schools and further education colleges

• equality, diversity and widening participation, actively targeting groups that are currently under-represented within the STEM disciplines

• ensuring students are supported to succeed

• working with others to ensure the provision of appropriate, up-to-date careers information

• reviewing and enhancing the content, delivery and assessment of the undergraduate STEM curriculum

• workforce development and lifelong learning: identifying the current skills needs of employers, developing flexible provision and encouraging individuals in the workforce to engage in their own skills development.

David Sweeney, HEFCE’s Director of Research, Innovation and Skills, said:

'The national programme should make a real difference to the numbers undertaking STEM courses within higher education, the diversity of the STEM student population and the development of innovative STEM courses.

'A core principle of the programme is that activity will be delivered through HEIs at a local level to best reflect local circumstances, economies and skills needs. Key to the success of the programme going forward will be the sustainability of the activity it develops beyond the period of HEFCE funding.'

Professor Nigel Weatherill, Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham led the team who developed the successful bid to host the programme. He said:

'Graduates from the STEM disciplines play an important role in creating a culture of innovation and enhancement in the workplace.

'It is crucial that we encourage not only the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians to engage with higher education study, but also encourage universities and employers to work together to develop the skills base of those currently within the workforce; this will be crucial if the UK is to maintain an innovative national economy that is able to compete on a global scale.

'The National HE STEM Programme will provide an exciting and timely opportunity for higher education institutions to develop innovative, transferable and flexible programmes of activity that are accessible to those within the workforce.'

Roger Carter, Head of Research, Business and Communities at HEFCW, said:

'We are delighted that Wales is joining this programme at a time when the Assembly Government is increasing its focus on STEM activity. It is vital that we encourage and support more young people to follow science subjects in Wales, as we work with universities, communities and employers to lay the foundations of the knowledge economy that will be so important to our future.'

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Notes to Editors

Further Information

For more information please contact Roger Grinyer, HEFCE,  on 0117 931 7307, Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.