Shortage of science graduates theory does not add up

Posted by pt91 at Aug 20, 2018 10:59 AM |
New study reveals majority of science graduates do not work in highly skilled science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) occupations at any time in their careers
Issued by University of Leicester on 20 August 2018
  • Study by Leicester and Warwick universities shows only minority of science graduates work in STEM
  • Study calls for more efforts to attract existing supply of science graduates into STEM

“Evidence produced by this study suggests that simply increasing the number of students studying STEM subjects at university – something that has proven very difficult – will be an ineffective way of addressing any labour shortages that may exist.” - Emma Smith and Patrick White

A new study from Leicester and Warwick universities, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, has debunked the argument that there is a shortage of science graduates.

Instead, the study finds that the majority of science graduates choose not to – or are unable to - work in highly skilled science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) occupations at any time in their careers.

Concerns about shortfalls of suitably qualified STEM graduates have been regularly raised for at least the last 70 years and have resulted in numerous, often expensive, national initiatives to encourage more young people to study the sciences at school and at university.

The research, conducted by Professor Emma Smith of the University of Warwick and Dr Patrick White of the University of Leicester, revealed that only a minority of science graduates ever work in STEM occupations at any time in their careers.

Dr Patrick White, of the School of Media, Communication and Sociology at Leicester, said: “The findings of our new research suggests that, despite frequent and regular reports of a shortage of science graduates, there is little evidence to support these claims.

“We found STEM graduates were more likely to work in teaching and management than in key ‘shortage areas’ such as science, engineering and ICT. Unlike in areas such as education and health, many workers in the science sector moved out of highly skilled STEM jobs as their careers progressed and there was no evidence of older workers moving into STEM careers later in life.”

Professor Emma Smith, Director of the Centre for Education Studies at Warwick, added: “We identified large differences in the proportion of different groups of STEM graduates entering highly skilled STEM jobs. While the majority of engineering graduates worked in these kinds of occupations, a relatively small number of biological science graduates were employed in these roles. Female graduates were also less likely to work in these types of jobs than their male counterparts. And graduates from post-1992 institutions were much less likely to work in highly skilled STEM jobs compared to those graduating from high status, research-intensive universities.”

The study also found:

  • In the medium to long term, STEM graduates did not have a better chance of entering graduate-level employment than those studying non-science subjects.
  • Although higher proportions of STEM students entered graduate jobs shortly after graduating, students with degrees in other subjects had caught up by their late twenties.
  • In fact, computer science and engineering graduates had above average rates of unemployment six months after graduating.

The authors state: “The findings suggest that, rather than there being an overall shortage of science graduates, only a minority are either able or willing to work in highly skilled STEM occupations. This could reflect the aspirations or expectations of the students themselves or the recruitment practices of employers.

“However, the evidence produced by this study suggests that simply increasing the number of students studying STEM subjects at university – something that has proven very difficult – will be an ineffective way of addressing any labour shortages that may exist.

“Attracting more of those from the existing supply of science graduates would be a quicker and more cost-effective strategy.”

The study used administrative and survey data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the Annual Population Survey (APS), the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) and National Child Development Study (NCDS) to examine the career destinations of thousands of graduates shortly after they graduate and later in their lives.

The executive summary and full report from this research project are available here:

Executive Summary: https://goo.gl/Ujr9vU

Full report: https://goo.gl/yNMhUk

Ends

Notes to editors:

The authors are available for interview- please email:

Dr Patrick White, University of Leicester:  pkw4@le.ac.uk

Professor Emma Smith, University of Warwick:  E.Smith.22@warwick.ac.uk

The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social wellbeing in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation. More information is available at www.nuffieldfoundation.org

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