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Key information from the government's Green Paper on the UK's Industrial Strategy: what those working in STEM need to know - and what to do next
What is it? A 132-page document called 'Building Our Industrial Strategy', published on 23rd January. It is a government Green Paper, which means it is a consultation document asking for feedback from both inside and outside government. Anyone can respond - the closing date for feedback is 17 th April 2017, and you can reply here .
What does it say? The report links the future of the UK's industry success to both a plan for Brexit and a need to develop education, infrastructure and funding structures. There are six key points for those working in STEM education:
1. Productivity related to numeracy
The report identifies that UK workers are less productive than France, Germany and the US, and that there are significant disparities in worker production in different parts of the country, citing lack of numeracy, literacy and digital skills as the reason why. According to the report, 'England remains the only OECD country where 16-24 year-olds are no more literate or numerate than 55-64 year-olds' and that the skills levels around the country show large differences between regions. The fact that many students retake GCSEs in English and maths and continue to fail them is mentioned, alongside the assurance that government is reviewing current policy in this area, including supporting FE colleges to become centres of excellence in teaching English and mathematics and asking the Education Endowment Foundation to expand their remit to consider post-16 issues. There is also mention of a 'transition year', already proposed in the 'Skills Plan' published last summer, to provide intensive support in numeracy and literacy and other basic skills to help young adults prepare for employment and stop them leaving education at 16.
2. Research and Development
It is noted that, while the UK has more Nobel Laureates than any other country outside the US, we spend only 1.7% of GDP on research and development (compared to OECD average of 2.4%) - and that funding is heavily focused on the 'golden triangle' of Oxford, Cambridge and London, with a need to expand this to other areas of the country. The report suggests that innovation - not only in terms of breakthrough, but also adoption of technology and new ways of providing services - is crucial to the economic future of the UK and will be invested in by the government (around an additional £4.7 billion, or 20%, by 2020-2021). Views are sought on the priorities for this investment. It is also suggested that, while the UK has 'world-class universities', they are lagging behind in terms of 'creating innovation and commercialisation'.
3. Technical education
While acknowledging that the UK has a high proportion of adults with degrees and some of the best universities in the world, the report suggests serious issues with our system of technical ('non-academic') education, and that industry now needs to help shape qualifications and curriculum to ensure the skills being developed are useful to future employers. The report suggests the progression paths in technical education are unclear and the choices 'bewildering', and that a clear and simple framework needs to be put in place, including 15 'core' technical routes, leading to 'full professional competence'. Institutes of Technology will be created in order to provide these opportunities. A course-finding process will be organised in a similar model to UCAS and careers advice will be improved.
4. STEM skills
The report suggests the UK has 'particular skills shortages in subjects that depend on STEM subjects', and suggests we need to 'boost STEM skills at all levels', by increasing the uptake of STEM subjects studied at university, creating more specialist maths schools (using Kings and Exeter Free schools as model) to further increase take-up of A-Level Mathematics, and improving basic numeracy levels. Even though the number of STEM graduates has been increasing over the last few years, industry demand is still unmet.
5. Educational collaboration
There is 'support' shown for the creation of new education institutions and the strengthening of local networks of universities 'to improve commercial opportunities'. In particular, a new research institution is being considered by Sir Mark Walport, with a focus on 'battery technology, energy storage and grid technology'. The report acknowledges the need for global collaboration among scientists: it says despite leaving the EU 'we will welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives'. A new forum has been established on 'EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation'.
6. Talented academics
The report places importance on 'building the pipeline of talent for an innovative economy', citing PhD students in STEM subject as significant contributors but suggesting programmes for post-doctoral and PhD programmes are oversubscribed and under-funded. Comparisons are made with other countries who have active programmes to attract leading talented academics who act as 'stars' and similarly attract others.
You can respond to the Green paper here, comment below this blog, or follow @CambridgeMaths on Twitter to discuss these issues further.