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Science minister David Willetts on the importance of STEM subjects

Engineering is vital to growth and the rebalancing of our economy. It underpins our most advanced industries, supports high-tech jobs and helps us design and make innovative new products. As a result of this, people with these skills are in high demand, nationally and internationally.

We know that more students are choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at both A-level and at university. But in order to support this vital sector, we need to ensure that there are people who want to pursue engineering as a career, not just a subject choice.

The government is absolutely committed to supporting this. Through our science and research budget, we fund a range of events and activities to encourage people from all backgrounds to pursue STEM careers and to show how rewarding they can be. This includes the STEM Ambassadors programme, the Big Bang Fair and the National Science and Engineering Competition. I presented this year’s awards and was incredibly impressed at the standard and enthusiasm of entrants.


In November, we announced two initiatives that will improve the information that is available to young people considering careers in STEM subjects.

The first is government support for an employer-led scheme to facilitate the kite marking of STEM degree courses. This will signal which courses best prepare students for employment in particular sectors or occupations.

The second initiative is the extension of the STEM Ambassadors programme into higher education. This will offer undergraduates access to mentoring support drawn from the existing network and raise the profile of the STEM sector.

We must ensure that there are young people who want to pursue engineering as a career

At postgraduate level, our Research Councils work closely with industry to ensure that training is of a high quality and to provide students with vocational experience alongside academic training. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, for example, brings students together in Doctoral Training Centres that address important areas — such as renewable energy — with industry partners such as BP and Rolls-Royce.

This helps give students the right skills to succeed in their careers, be that in academia or in the private sector.

We are also helping to make alternative routes available into highly skilled careers such as engineering and manufacturing.

We have radically expanded the number of degree-level apprenticeships for young people, helping to put practical learning on a level footing with academic study. Our £25m Higher Level Apprenticeships Fund is intended to support up to 25,000 apprenticeships in sectors including construction, advanced engineering, insurance and financial services.

Around 250 employers — including Leyland Trucks, Unilever, TNT and Burberry — will benefit from world-class, nationally accredited technical training delivered in the workplace.

Getting young people interested in STEM careers is a priority for government. I hope I have shown that there are not only opportunities to learn more about the vast range of careers on offer, but also different routes to gaining the right skills and achieving long-term success.

David Willetts is minister of state for universities and science

Readers' comments (12)

  • Good news from the Minister about support for young people about to start HE; but evidence is that children start forming careers inclinations much younger. We need to stimulate the interest, passion for STEM at Primary and KS3 stages. See Lab_13 for example.

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  • Design and Development needs a greater focus.
    Perhaps the Government would help its cause by placing contracts locally.
    Indigenous design and Development may be expensive in the short term, however it is the only way to rebuild national capability and excite newcomers to take up careers.

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  • Another MP spouts about the importance of STEM subjects. The harsh reality is that it will not be worth young people taking out a loan of £50,000 to study engineering and then struggle to get a job on £22,000.

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  • Rick Hall is right. Kids need switching on to science and engineering - either at school, in science clubs, with their science/engineering grandparents or at home (parents please provide sheds and meccano).

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  • This is a bit like the "apprenticeships" proposals from David Cameron....its all well & good saying they (the government) have a commitment..they cant provide anything other that helping aany industry stay the course....this isnt about party politics "the last government blah blah"....stop blaming others & get on with it.....COMMIT yourselves Mr Camerons government.
    There simply has to be growth & stability in whatever bits of industry we have (still) & encourage others who what to invest in bringing industries here to commit to the long term investment in training...understanding that any mucking about affects the whole working lives & well beings of individuals.
    We have to treat this like we were at WAR......its that important.....STEM goes part way to improve communications & identify needs....but as said previously the idea of a career in a trade or profession has to be cultivated earlier in individuals.

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  • This is how I grew up in Eastern Germany:
    In grade 1-4 we had a patch to attend in the school garden. In Grade 5 we exchanged the garden with DIY classes; working with wood, plastics, metal. Little projects to take home when finished.

    In grade 7 we started working in the local factory once per week for 4 hours; first in a sheltered environment with a teacher, later assigned to various locations and assigned to production teams. In grade 9 every boy in our school learned to work the lathe for 6 months.

    Every class had a partner team from a local factory or other company. They would show us their work place (show and tell) and they'd provide assistance in days out like going to the museum or the opera, when you need more than just a teacher to keep a herd of kids in check and free from harm.

    Most students left school at age 16 and at age 18 everyone had either their highschool diploma (if going further to university) or completed apprenticeship.

    Nowadays German engineering companies prefer university graduates with previous apprenticeships completed.

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  • It is pleasing to see the Minister for Science, David Willets, giving support to the STEM subjects but this is being said at a time when the Department for Education has sidelined the 14 to 19 Engineering Diploma which has strong support from the engineering and manufacturing industry. And, even more difficult to understand, is the proposed relegating of Design & Technology (D&T) in schools to a third level curriculum subject which is likely to result in a reversion to craft work more appropriate to previous centuries. Well developed D&T courses in schools enable young people to work with computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), build electronic circuits, develop systems and control programming expertise, work with modern materials and processes all within the context of practical design project work which they manage. Where else in the school curriculum can they do this? Surely if we are to sustain the significant improvements in recruitment to higher level engineering and manufacturing courses we need to give every young person in the UK the opportunity to do D&T so they can make an informed decision to ‘pursue an engineering career, not just a subject’.
    The D&T Campaign facilitated by The Design and Technology Association together with high profile representatives of the engineering and design professions can be found at -

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  • Admirable so why remove D & T from the national curriculum?

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  • A lot has to be done to turn around long term attitudes and the failures of many years. In teaching a Junior Engineering club at a primary school, it became obvious to me that most of the children came from homes where nothing practical was done at all, and they truly loved the tasks we worked through. We must engender more practical skills. Even cooking at home; in a society where the upwards spiralling of a bloated public sector has led to a near compulsion for two incomes to pay rising taxes, frequently by means of another made up job in said public sector, parents have little if any time at home to cook or do any of the practical things my parents did, and it shows.
    But we must also overcome the collapse in educational standards that makes A levels about as in depth as O levels used to be, and sees MEng degrees as clearly failing to get Graduates up to the standard we used to be able to expect from a BSc.
    Unless we admit the failures, we cannot correct for the future.

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  • Several respondents are giving a clear message that we need to ensure young people are given the opportunity to experience, learn about and enjoy engineering and manufacturing from an early age. This must be a compelling argument for ensuring that D&T is retained in the national curriculum at key stages 1, 2 and 3.

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