Technology

Britain Urged to Upgrade Tech Skills


Businesses must do more to help boost the numbers of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) degrees in order to ensure the UK does not lag behind its international competitors, a new report has warned.

Failure to increase the number of Stem grads will mean the UK can kiss goodbye to being a world leader in sectors such as environmental technology, pharmaceuticals, high value-added manufacturing and financial services, according to the report by business association the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

"Effective collaboration between the higher education sector, business and government will be critical to the UK's economic recovery and sustainable international competitiveness," Sam Laidlaw, chairman of the CBI higher education task force, and CEO of Centrica (CNA.L), said in a statement.

The report notes that while UK undergraduate numbers have risen by 35 per cent since 1997, the proportion of students taking Stem degrees has declined by 20 per cent since 1999-2000.

While the CBI report also notes the recession has "undoubtedly" reduced the number of IT jobs available, it adds: "There is a strong demand from the business community for graduates and postgraduates with Stem skills, and this is expected to intensify in the future."

IT skills are an issue of perennial concern for the UK which creates fewer IT graduates annually than UK industry requires – only around 12,000 computer science grads are produced yet around 140,000 vacancies need filling across IT professions each year in the UK.

There's another looming problem too – this time financial in nature. The CBI warns the government will be unable to sustain current levels of university funding so reckons UK Plc must step in and do more.

Recommendations for business include sponsoring students studying relevant Stem subject and providing financial support to new graduates through bonuses when they sign on with a company.

"The business community also needs to consider the case for special measures to support those students who will be graduating this year and next," the report adds. "They will have paid fees of £3,000 and more for each year of their higher education, and will leave university to face some of the toughest labour market conditions in a generation."

Additional help the CBI would like to see businesses offer includes more opportunities for students to do internships, placements, work experience and projects; and developing closer working relationships with universities.

Richard Lambert, CBI director-general, said in a statement: "Business should engage more with universities, both financially and intellectually. More firms should help design and pay for courses for the benefit of the current and future workforce, and more firms should offer students practical work experience."

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