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Delivering STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills for the economy

Responsibility for developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills in the UK involves a number of government departments and is embedded across a number of non-STEM specific policy areas. The Department for Education (DfE) is responsible for the majority of STEM skills interventions. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has a cross-cutting role, including work on doctoral training and STEM inspiration and setting the national framework for science and technology. Other departments run individual STEM-related programmes and initiatives. Aside from the core teaching of STEM subjects, some of the most significant initiatives in terms of government spending are: (a) providing higher education institutions with additional money to support their teaching of very high-cost STEM subjects; (b) allocating capital funds to enhance higher education STEM teaching facilities; and (c) running university technical colleges, which were set up to offer 14- to 19-year-olds a combination of technical, practical and academic learning. This study examines whether the approach of the departments to boosting participation in the STEM education pipeline at all levels is likely to address the STEM skills challenge in a way that achieves value for money., This report examines three main areas: (1) government’s understanding of the need for enhanced STEM skills in the workforce; (2) what the performance of the education pipeline shows about the effectiveness of past initiatives in delivering STEM skills; and (3) the opportunities and risks associated with the latest initiatives to enhance the development of STEM skills. In terms of value for money, the report concludes that some Dfe and BEIS initiatives are achieving positive results but there remains an urgent need for a shared vision of what is trying to be achieved and coordinated plans across government. The absence of a precise understanding of the STEM skills problem means the efforts of DfE and BEIS are not well prioritised and a better targeted approach is needed to demonstrate value for money. A number of recommendations are proposed.