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National programme for STEM

HEFCE seeks an institution to host a national higher education programme for STEM subjects.

Strategically important subjects

In 2004, the Secretary of State sought advice from us on whether there are any strategically important higher education subjects or courses. The 'strategic importance' of these subjects refers to the need for some kind of assistive intervention to facilitate the subject's provision. Where such intervention is necessary in order to address a mismatch between supply and demand, the subject is designated as both strategically important and vulnerable.

The Secretary of State requested that we examine prospective strategically important subjects and the types of intervention that could be considered.

Strategically important and vulnerable subjects

In response to the Government's request, we have undertaken a £350 million programme of work to support subjects that are strategically important and vulnerable. The work of our advisory group has informed the scope and direction of this programme. Currently, the following subjects are identified as strategically important and vulnerable:

HEFCE’s programme of work to support strategically important and vulnerable subjects 2005-06 to 2011-12

[ MS Word 83K | Zipped MS Word 12K | Adobe PDF 47K | Zipped Adobe PDF 25K ]

2008 review of the programme

During the course of 2007-08, HEFCE's strategically important subjects advisory group reconvened. Chaired by Professor Sir Brian Follett, the group reviewed our programme for strategically important and vulnerable subjects.

The group found that the principles to guide our programme remain fit for purpose, and offered key points of advice for today's environment.

Letter and report to Secretary of State

A detailed breakdown of our funding for strategically important and vulnerable subjects is outlined in our October 2008 update to the Secretary of State.

Letter to Secretary of State, October 2008

[ Adobe PDF 166K | Zipped Adobe PDF 141K ]

We have produced a brief guide to illustrate our support for and future approach towards strategically important and vulnerable subjects.

Sustaining science and other key vulnerable subjects in higher education

[ Adobe PDF 711K | Zipped Adobe PDF 672K ]

We published the advisory group's final report to the Secretary of State in October 2008.

Other strategically important subjects

Islamic studies

In June 2007 the Government identified Islamic studies as a strategically important subject. We are in the process of investigating an appropriate form of intervention, with advice from the Islamic studies community. We are not treating Islamic studies as vulnerable until we have fully assessed the needs of the subject.

Land-based studies

In 2007, a review of land-based studies found no immediate threat to the sustainability of its provision in England, while recommending specific actions to prevent future vulnerability. We have subsequently agreed that the subject should no longer be considered vulnerable, but have launched a programme of support to forestall potential risks.

Further information

Details of our continuing support for strategic subjects are also available.

Questions about HEFCE's approach to strategic subjects should be directed to Paul Hazell, tel 0117 931 7452, e-mail

Last updated 13 November 2008