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The Government’s 2014 Science and Innovation Strategy commissioned two independent reviews to look into the employment outcomes of graduates from STEM and, specifically, computer sciences. This followed concerns about the number of STEM graduates who appeared to be unemployed six months after graduation, the employment figures for computer sciences being the lowest of all STEM subjects. The reviews also considered systems of degree accreditation and looked at what employers say they want from graduates.

Key findings

Both reviews find that:

  • Employers are looking for ‘work-ready’ graduates who can apply their academic studies and abilities in a commercial or work context. Work experience is invaluable, but not all employers want the same things, or are willing (and sufficiently resourced) to mould and train staff.
  • Industry is changing at a rapid rate; this presents a dilemma for universities and colleges if they try to keep up with industry demands.
  • Graduates need to upskill and adapt to a changing jobs market; their degree will only get them so far in a career that may span 50 years.
  • Careers advice needs to be tailored to each STEM subject, and students need learn about career options early in their studies.
  • Industry and higher education need to engage collaboratively in curriculum design, in assessment and accreditation, and in providing work experience opportunities and careers advice.
  • The value of degree accreditation systems varies by STEM discipline. Some have established, respected systems, while others are still developing or are yet to be recognised and valued outside higher education.

The Review of STEM Degree Provision and Employability was led by Professor Sir William Wakeham and looked across the whole of STEM to investigate whether any disciplines other than computer sciences had concerning graduate employment outcomes. The review recommends:

  • Targeted investigation of poor employment outcomes for graduates from three economically important disciplines: biological sciences; earth, marine and environmental sciences; and agriculture, animal sciences and food sciences.
  • Further work to establish the extent of concerns relating to aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering and engineering design graduates, and ensure these disciplines remain able to meet employer demands.
  • Exploration by the Science Council of an overall accreditation framework for the science disciplines.

The Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability Review was led by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt and investigated the reasons for the low employment rate among computer sciences graduates and the role of accreditation systems. The review recommends:

  • Improved data, based on better collection and analysis, to establish more clearly which skills employers want and where graduates are working, and to inform horizon-scanning.
  • Improved work experience opportunities for students, with investigation of any barriers for particular groups.
  • Continued teaching of foundational knowledge and principles of computer science in line with the Association for Computing Machinery guidelines.
  • ‘Work-ready’ skills as a recognised and accredited part of degree programmes.
  • A campaign targeted at careers in computer science that also looks to accrediting careers advice as part of degree programmes.
  • Start-up companies and small and medium-sized enterprises as a more visible and vocal part of the employer landscape, with greater interaction with higher education providers.
  • Flexible, agile and responsive accreditation of degree courses, and work to make this more respected and valued by employers, students and higher education providers.

Commenting on the reviews, HEFCE Chief Executive Professor Madeleine Atkins said:

‘Graduates from STEM courses, including computer sciences, are vital to the future needs of a fast-paced and increasingly technology-driven economy. By improving our understanding of the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for graduates to meet the needs of industry, now and in the future, we can enhance the nation’s productivity and competitiveness. These reviews present strong evidence of the ways universities and industry can work together to secure a graduate workforce that will meet this challenge.

‘We welcome the opportunity to work with the Government in taking these recommendations forward and, in particular, the opportunity to contribute to horizon-scanning for future skills needs and help improve data about these and other subjects.’

Notes

  1. See the Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability.
  2. See the Shadbolt Review of Computer Sciences Degree Accreditation and Graduate Employability.
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