National HE STEM Programme

National HE STEM programme logo

The National Higher Education Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (HE STEM) Programme was a three-year £21million initiative funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England and Wales (HEFCE and HEFCW) through an activity grant to the University of Birmingham in August 2009. The Programme co-ordinated its activities across six geographical regions represented by the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester Metropolitan, Southampton and Swansea, and by working in collaboration with four Professional Body partners: The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, The Institute of Physics, The Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

Working across the higher education sector in England and Wales, with a particular focus upon the disciplines of chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics, the Programme supported higher education institutions in encouraging the exploration of new approaches to recruiting students and delivering programmes of study. It enabled the transfer of best practice across the higher education STEM sector, facilitated its wider adoption, and encouraged innovation. Through collaboration and shared working, the Programme focused upon sustainable activities to achieve longer-term impact within the higher education sector. 

History and Development

In early 2009, following a competitive process amongst higher education institutions within England, the University of Birmingham was successful in its tender to work with the Royal Society of Chemistry, Institute of Physics, Royal Academy of Engineering, and the institute of Mathematics and its Applications (on behalf of a consortium of mathematical bodies) to develop the activities of the National HE STEM Programme. In 2005 and 2006 HEFCE had funded a series of disciplinary pilot activities in Chemistry, Physics, Engineering and Mathematics, and between January 2009 and March 2009 the University of Birmingham worked with the learned societies that led them to identify a series of activities that would be undertaken through the National HE STEM Programme to transfer and embed the outcomes of these pilot projects more widely within the higher education sector.

In addition to the national roll-out of the pilot project practices, new activities were initiated at both regional and national levels through the six university partners: the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester Metropolitan, Southampton and Swansea.

The Programme’s Director throughout its period of operation was Michael Grove  who was previously involved in establishing the More Maths Grads initiative and in developing the proposal for the National HE STEM Programme itself.


The National HE STEM Programme set itself an ambitious strategy given its three-year period of operation that was underpinned by a series of core values. The Programme’s full strategy  took place across three related strands:

  1. Widening participation within the STEM disciplines at university level, by supporting higher education institutions to work with those currently within the school and further education sectors.
  2. Higher education curriculum developments focusing upon course delivery and design and student support, to enhance student knowledge, progression and skills.
  3. Encouraging those currently within the workforce and society to engage with further study to develop enhanced knowledge and skills.

In addition it acted as a focus for HE STEM sector activity, supporting those who wished to adopt or share good practice with others, and develop new and innovative practices. It brought together those with a common interest and vision to improve the way students are recruited and how programmes of study with the STEM disciplines are delivered.

Impact and engagement

Engagement throughout the life of the Programme was extensive. Over 90 higher education institutions across England and Wales participated in funded projects, with over eighty institutions leading these. Higher education staff, postgraduate and undergraduates students participated in projects, workshops and professional development events; for example, over 300 higher education representatives attended the Programme’s concluding conference held at the University of Birmingham in September 2012. In addition, a range of employers, charitable organisations, STEM initiatives and organisations and other stakeholders actively participated in the Programme’s work.

At the conclusion of the Programme, a final report was produced which set out the achievements, impacts and successes arising from the Programme.

Additionally, CFE Consulting were commissioned by the Funding Councils to undertake a summative evaluation  of the Programme. The evaluation was commissioned to establish the Programme’s overall effectiveness, its impact on policy, process and activity within higher education institutions and the broader STEM community, and the sustainability of the Programme outcomes.  It found that “there had been a high level of engagement with the Programme covering the majority of higher education institutions with relevant STEM provision in England and Wales”. It also found that it had impacted on university activity and practice and influenced the national debates on HE STEM and related policy. Its conclusion noted “the National HE STEM Programme was an effective and valuable contribution to the challenges facing the supply and diversity of STEM graduates in England and Wales”.