Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Letters

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Letters

Article excerpt

Gear up to head off STEM shortage

The UK's engineering skills challenge is even more stark than some imagine: we need at least 800,000 more graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by 2020, not 100,000 ("Caught short?", Feature, 6 March). There is substantial evidence pointing to very real skills shortages in many areas, particularly in some engineering sectors. Many companies report such shortages as the single greatest barrier to their growth. To address these issues effectively, we must remember that STEM skills are not a single entity.

The Royal Academy of Engineering's 2012 report Jobs and Growth: The Importance of Engineering Skills to the UK Economy used robust datasets to analyse the existing and forthcoming engineering skills landscape. It concluded that we need an extra 800,000-plus STEM graduates by 2020. This is partly to replace an ageing workforce, but also to meet predicted demand for engineers throughout the entire economy in sectors such as finance, healthcare and IT.

The growth in STEM has been driven by subject groups such as biological sciences and those allied to medicine. This overall expansion masks the limited change in engineering and technology graduates over the past 20 years. The issue is not STEM but rather specific disciplines, namely engineering, computing and physical sciences.

Even within engineering, the picture is complex, as not all sectors face the same skills challenges. In addition, skills shortages are often experienced most keenly in the supply chain, not in the high-profile global organisations within the same sector. The Royal Academy of Engineering is working with employers and universities to find ways to highlight the opportunities for graduates in smaller firms.

This is an important debate for the UK, and I agree that more, real-time data must be gathered. It is imperative that sector and skill-specific information be made available, utilised and communicated accurately to all stakeholders, from government and industry through to students considering their career options.

Rhys Morgan

Director, engineering and education

Royal Academy of Engineering

Serfs up

When I was personally exposed to zero hours contracts two years ago, my reaction was "I thought serfdom had been abolished" ("It's casual, and that's a problem", Leader, 13 March). Such contracts may in some circumstances be very useful for both employer and employee, but their implications should not be hidden. As increasingly used in sectors such as social care, they are harmful as they weaken the status of employees within an organisation in a sector that does not need them on the scale practised. Their use also facilitates favouritism in the allocation of hours without redress. That is most wrong.

Fiona MacCarthy

Via timeshighereducation.co.uk

Independence and quality

Regarding the article "Private pair claim more public cash than LSE" (6 February), which looked at the support received by students at private providers from the Student Loans Company. We would like to make clear that St Patrick's International College is an independent college, and receives not one penny in government funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. In 2012-13, the London School of Economics received £24.4 million in Hefce grants for teaching and research - considerably more than the £11 million St Patrick's received from the SLC. And if you add the £8.5 million that the LSE received from the SLC, a total of almost £33 million in "public cash" went to the LSE, nearly three times the amount received by St Patrick's.

St Patrick's has achieved growth by introducing new courses and investing the resources required to manage increased student numbers. We began teaching UK honours degrees and higher national diploma courses in 2000. …

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