UK urged to mind the gap!

Hannah Oakman visited the Westminster launch of the University Alliance/Lincoln University Catalyst Project

Just how can we engage today’s employers to truly secure the future of science, technology, engineering and maths (the STEM acronym we hear so much about now) in the UK? This was the main question on everyone’s lips at the recent launch of a new report: Mind the Gap: Engaging employers to secure the future of STEM in higher education, held in conjunction with the University Alliance, in the House of Commons this week. 

With guest speakers including University Alliance Chief Executive Maddalaine Ansell, HEFCE‘s Policy Director Chris Willward, Lincoln University‘s Vice-Chancellor Professor Mary Stuart and Director of iFormulate Dr Ian Bullock, the topic was tackled with a range of opinions as to how we overcome the issue of boosting the STEM subjects even further in our higher education institutions, to ensure we have a workforce truly prepared for the 21st century challenges to come.

The launch, held in the Stranger’s Dining Room at the House of Commons, and hosted by Dr Roberta Blackman Woods MP, was timely, according to Maddalaine Ansell. Opening the addresses, she talked about the skills gap which still: ‘Continues to have a serious impact on our economy. Progress in the deep collaboration we need between our universities and industrialists has been slow, which means productivity has not risen as it should.’

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Dr Bullock from iFormulate then stepped up to offer some helpful advice for higher education bodies to boost these partnerships for the future. He urged universities to consult and listen harder, and work with a group of local businesses who could go on to champion their new STEM study programmes.

‘You need to be flexible too, as employers may require a variety of options, as well as seeking collaborations with like-minded partners at different institutions,’ he urged. ‘Industrialists like to be flattered and involved in teaching programmes, especially those which are sustainable with a long-term vision.’

We were also addressed by Professor Mary Stewart, Vice-Chancellor at Lincoln University, who joint-authored the report and is seeing a fundamental need for institutions to work with industry in a regional way. She also praised the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) for its role in funding the report and supporting this kind of STEM-related research and development for the future.

Dr Blackman MP then really summed up the importance of STEM for future generations of employees, questioning how we now manage employee engagement and the huge issue for government as to how this activity will be funded and supported in the future, especially in light of further devolution on the Conservative government’s agenda. ‘We need to be in this for the long-term and protect the structures which are in place to enable this. What this report shows clearly is the importance of action on a regional level and this must be supported,” she ended.

To read the report visit https://www.unialliance.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Mind-the-gap-web.pdf

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