The number of entrants to full-time first degree courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) increased by 3.2 per cent in 2015-16, compared with 2014-15, and has increased by 32 per cent since 2007-08.
STEM subjects with some of the largest proportionate increases between 2006-07 and 2015-16 are:
- physics and astronomy (up 54 per cent)
- chemistry and materials science (up 50 per cent)
- mathematical sciences (up 32 per cent).
There was also a large increase in the number of entrants to biological sciences (up 42 per cent since 2007-08).
However, the Wakeham Review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability identified biological sciences as a subject for which there is considerable concern, as the employment outcomes for these graduates were relatively poor. The review recommended that further targeted work be undertaken to explore the reasons for this.
Engineering and technology is the largest STEM subject group. Overall, there was a 30 per cent increase in full-time first degree entrants to engineering and technology courses between 2007-08 and 2015-16.
Within the engineering and technology subject area, the largest absolute increase in first degree entrants was in mechanical, aeronautical and production engineering courses.
Since 2007, HEFCE has provided additional funding to help secure the provision of courses in chemical engineering and mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering (as well as chemistry and physics), recognising that these subject areas are very high-cost. However, the trends in entry to these two areas of engineering have been very different.
The number of entrants to first degrees in chemical, process and energy engineering has increased consistently. By 2015-16 the cumulative increase since the funding began was 147 per cent (from approximately 1,100 to 2,800 students).
By contrast, although there was an initial increase in entrants to first degrees in mineral, metallurgy and materials engineering, this was not sustained. By 2015-16 numbers had declined by 57 per cent (from approximately 1,350 to 600 students).
The number of entrants to full-time taught postgraduate STEM courses was 17 per cent higher in 2015-16 than 2007-08. There was a particularly large increase of 76 per cent in mathematical sciences courses. Engineering subjects also grew, by 28 per cent, although computer science fell by 17 per cent.
However, while the overall number of entrants to full-time postgraduate STEM courses has risen, there has been increasing dependence on overseas students to maintain provision of some disciplines.
For example, the number of entrants to full-time taught postgraduate courses in engineering grew by 28 per cent between 2007-08 and 2015-16, but the number of UK-domiciled students fell by 2.8 per cent and the growth in student numbers was wholly attributable to an increase in students from outside the UK.
In many STEM subjects fewer than 30 per cent of taught postgraduate students are UK-domiciled and for electronic and electrical engineering the proportion is just 10 per cent.