Skip to main content | section navigation
You are in :

October 2008/38 (web only)
Policy development

No action is required

Strategically important and vulnerable subjects
Final report of the 2008 advisory group

This report sets out the advice of the HEFCE chief executive's Strategically Important Subjects Advisory Group, which was delivered in June 2008. The group's primary aim was to review the policy framework that guides HEFCE's approach towards strategically important subjects.

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Of interest to those responsible for: Senior management, Governance, Planning
Reference: 2008/38
Publication date: October 2008
Enquiries to: Paul Hazell
tel 0117 931 7452

Table of contents and executive summary (read online)

Table C1 - HESA cost centre data

[ MS Excel 30K | Zipped Excel 8K ]

Table C2 - UCAS time series data

[ MS Excel 24K | Zipped Excel 5K ]

Table C3 - A-level time series data

[ MS Excel 23K | Zipped Excel 4K ]


  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Reviewing HEFCE's strategically important subjects policy framework
  • Horizon scanning or trend analysis
  • Evaluating HEFCE's programme of work to support SIVS
  • Deciding when a case for vulnerability can no longer be made
  • Advising, influencing and working with others
  • Next steps
  • Annex A Membership and terms of reference for HEFCE's Strategically Important Subjects Advisory Group
  • Annex B HEFCE spending in support of SIVS
  • Annex C Data and analysis
  • Annex D Key data from the 'Early careers of graduates' report
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary


1.   This report sets out the advice and conclusions of the HEFCE chief executive's Strategically Important Subjects Advisory Group, which was delivered in June 2008. The group's primary aim was to review the policy framework that guides HEFCE's approach towards strategically important subjects.

2.   Subjects deemed strategically important and vulnerable by the Strategically Important Subjects Advisory Group are:

  • science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects
  • area studies and related minority languages, including:
    • Arabic and Turkish language studies and other Middle Eastern area studies, former Soviet Union Caucasus and central Asian area studies
    • Japanese, Chinese, Mandarin and other Far Eastern languages and area studies
    • courses relating to recent EU accession countries, especially those in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region
  • modern foreign languages
  • quantitative social science.

Key points

3.   The advisory group supports HEFCE's 350 million programme of work to support vulnerable subjects and suggests the following principles in relation to strategically important subjects:

  1. The group concurs with the view of the previous Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects (SIVS) advisory group, in its 2005 report (HEFCE 2005/24), that it should be the Government's role at any given time to designate subjects as being strategically important, and HEFCE's role to consider whether such subjects are vulnerable and the interventions necessary to address this.
  2. The group supports the policy framework developed by the 2005 review, while emphasising the importance of skills in the workplace and the need for HEFCE to establish a framework for integrating its activities on SIVS and on employer engagement. The group also highlights the value of measures to address the supply of, as well as demand for, SIVS.
  3. HEFCE should adopt a selective approach to sustaining provision in specific places and any intervention should be characterised by innovation and collaboration, a strongly evidenced case for vulnerability and the enhancement of national provision as well as that in the specific locality.
  4. The group welcomes the progress of the key indicators of demand in STEM subjects and notes the continued impact on STEM demand of the growth of more vocational areas of science such as medicine and pharmacy.
  5. The group notes the sustained volume of modern languages provision in higher education and supports the measures recommended by Lord Dearing's Languages Review to develop languages at lower levels.
  6. In light of the Gill Review and the measures being taken by HEFCE to sustain specialist provision, land-based studies should no longer be considered vulnerable.
  7. The group supports HEFCE's programme of support for SIVS, and sees it as being appropriate and proportionate for the issues identified. Outcome and output measures should be in place and regularly monitored in any further funding provided.
  8. A new advisory group should be set up with a remit to consider graduate supply and demand, and the range of health-of-discipline issues arising from indicators of vulnerability. Research should be undertaken into salaries and other measures of graduate demand, which will complement information produced by Sector Skills Councils and others.
  9. A further review of the SIVS policy framework should be carried out in 2011.

Action required

4.   No action is required in response to this document.