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10 October 2006

HEFCE working in partnership with Government to build student demand for STEM subjects

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), working in collaboration with the Government, a range of subject organisations and other partners, is aiming to build demand from students wishing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects in higher education.

Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of HEFCE, and Bill Rammell, Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, today (10 October 2006) launched four major pilot initiatives in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Engineering. With total funding of 18 million, the programme aims to encourage more young people from a wide variety of backgrounds to study these subjects.

Professor Eastwood said:

'There are encouraging signs that the recent decline in demand from students wishing to study STEM subjects is stabilising and the numbers applying are picking up.

'We want to build on this position and substantially increase the numbers of young people who see real value and reward in studying these subjects in terms of their future careers. By increasing the pool of entrants from all types of people, especially those from backgrounds under-represented in higher education, we can help secure the future supply of graduates to meet the country's needs and ensure the sustainability of these subjects over the longer term.'

The four projects being funded under the STEM initiative are:

  • the Royal Academy of Engineering and its partners have been awarded 2.85 million by HEFCE over two and a half years to develop a pilot initiative known as the London Engineering project. It will enable South London youngsters in schools to experience hands-on STEM activities and encourage them to go on to study engineering
  • the Institute of Physics has been awarded 1.785 million by HEFCE over two years for the Stimulating Physics project, which aims to widen and increase participation in physics-based courses in higher education
  • a consortium of mathematical societies and other partners (note 3) have been awarded 3.3 million over three years to widen participation in mathematics among learners groups that have not previously been well-represented in higher education
  • the Royal Society of Chemistry has been awarded 3.6 million over two years for the Chemistry for our Future project. This aims to ensure that there is a wide and sustainable chemistry community across England, attracting students from all backgrounds.

Initially these are all pilot projects based within regions or across regions, and if successful will be rolled out nationally, subject to the availability of funding. Together they will involve more than 100 schools and further education colleges and will target 80,000 pupils and students aged from nine to 21.

Individual press releases about the four projects are available at the end of this press release.

The projects have a number of common themes and are using similar approaches to meet common strategic aims. These include:

  • increasing and widening participation by working with groups that are currently under-represented in HE
  • enhancement of the curriculum to make the subjects more relevant to today's problems and challenges and the needs of students
  • making students aware of the career options and the doors that will be open to them by pursuing particular courses of study
  • increasing links between schools and higher education including mentoring, summer schools, and enabling pupils to use state of the art facilities.

Minister for Lifelong Learning Further and Higher Education Bill Rammell, said:

'We have a common goal, to inspire young people, to show them the wonders and excitement that science, technology, engineering and maths can bring and to encourage them to study and pursue these subjects to higher levels and in their careers. HEFCE's innovative projects are a big step forward in reaching that goal.'

'I am also pleased to announce today that the Government is publishing the STEM Programme Report. The report, which reinforces the commitments from the science and innovation investment framework, works towards a vision of delivering STEM support in the most effective way to every school, college, learning provider and learner. We are also appointing John Holman as the first National STEM Director. John's role will be invaluable in ensuring that we can gain the biggest impact possible in improving the quality of STEM teaching and support.'

Richard Lambert, Director-General of the CBI , welcomed the announcement of the science skills projects and said:

'Employers are increasingly worried that the UK's world-class science base will be under threat if the long-term decline in numbers studying physics, chemistry and maths continues. If we want to stay competitive with our existing international rivals, and up-and-coming countries, we must find ways of reversing this trend. We strongly welcome these initiatives, which offer new ways to interest young people in these subjects and to reinvigorate our science base for the benefit of business and the UK as a whole.'

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury said:

'It is absolutely vital for the future economic prosperity and wellbeing of our country that we are successful in enthusing young people about science education and equipping them to pursue the interesting and rewarding jobs and careers that science has to offer.

'The publication of the STEM Programme report complements the commitments to improve science teaching and learning which were set out in the Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004 - 2014: Next Steps.

'The STEM Programme report signals the Government's determination to work with partners and stakeholders to improve the delivery of professional development for teachers and STEM enhancement activities for students in all schools.'

Commenting on the STEM programme report and his appointment as the new national director of STEM, Professor John Holman said:

'Science education has many willing supporters, in both the public and private sectors. I welcome the opportunity that this report offers to work with the many stakeholders in science to co-ordinate their initiatives to improve science teaching, and so strengthen and simplify the support available to teachers.'

For further information please contact:

HEFCE: Roger Grinyer tel 0117 931 7307 or Philip Walker tel 0117 931 7363.

Royal Academy of Engineering: Heather Hawthorne tel 020 7717 1670

For the consortium of mathematical societies: Caroline Davis, London Mathematical Society, tel 020 7927 0804

Institute of Physics: Dianne Stilwell tel 020 7470 4875

Royal Society of Chemistry: Tony Kirby, tel 020 7440 3358.

Notes for editors

1.   The launch of these initiatives on increasing demand for STEM subjects follows a major review by HEFCE of strategically important and vulnerable subjects, requested by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in December 2004.

2.   HEFCE is contributing 11.54 million for the STEM programme. The four projects have additional funding from other partners. Total funding for the projects, including HEFCE and additional partner funding, is around 18 million.

3.   The maths project will be managed by the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research at the University of Birmingham, in conjunction with a consortium of partners including the Royal Statistical Society, the London Mathematical Society, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, and the Heads of Departments of Mathematical Sciences.

4.   Attached to this press release are tables showing the number of actual undergraduate students (1999-2000 to 2004-05) as recorded in the annual Higher Education Statistics Agency survey, and the number of applications (2002-03 and 2005-06) made through UCAS.


Undergraduate students 1999-2000 to 2004-05 in STEM subjects - HESA data (actual student numbers in full-time equivalents)

[ MS Word 64K | Zipped Word 8K | Adobe PDF 34K | Zipped PDF 21K ]

Undergraduate applications to STEM subjects between 2002-03 and 2005-06 (applications through UCAS)

[ MS Word 66K | Zipped Word 9K | Adobe PDF 39K | Zipped PDF 22K ]

Individual press releases

Chemistry for our Future

[ MS Word 223K | Zipped Word 155K | Adobe PDF 55K | Zipped PDF 42K ]

London Engineering Project

[ MS Word 223K | Zipped Word 121K | Adobe PDF 484K | Zipped PDF 104K ]

More Mathematics Graduates

[ MS Word 726K | Zipped Word 85K | Adobe PDF 568K | Zipped PDF 70K ]

More Mathematics Graduates - HEFCE

[ MS Word 723K | Zipped Word 567K | Adobe PDF 85K | Zipped PDF 70K ]

Stimulating Physics Project

[ MS Word 160K | Zipped Word 104K | Adobe PDF 34K | Zipped PDF 25K ]