A higher degree of concern

31 January 2008

This report is the second and final phase of a project examining STEM higher education in the UK.

The first report, A degree of concern?, was published in October 2006 and focused on undergraduate degrees. This report focuses on postgraduate degrees, and also draws upon the findings of both the reports to make recommendations regarding how UK STEM higher education can remain fit for purpose into the middle of the next decade and beyond.

The Higher Education system underpins the UK's ability to do well as a nation. In the context of an increasingly competitive and inter-connected global economy, this means that HE must equip students individually with the knowledge, skills and aptitudes to hold their own with the best in the world. At the same time HE must provide the basis for a skilled workforce that meets the UK's needs quantitatively and qualitatively. This report highlights important recent trends in the teaching and research training functions of HE and steps we must take, urgently, to ensure that it delivers these requirements over the next decade. Maintaining the output of well trained and flexible science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals is of integral importance to the UK's economic and social development.

The report uses HESA data to examine recent trends in postgraduate courses in STEM subjects, including the growing number of non-UK students who choose to come to the UK to study. Our detailed analysis of the statistics confirms that numbers of UK students taking core science and engineering subjects at postgraduate levels have not risen in line with the overall growth in numbers studying for postgraduate qualifications. In order to avoid serious shortages of these vital skills, we urge both individual universities and central Government to encourage study in core STEM subjects at all levels, for example by the introduction of bursaries or reduced fees for students undertaking these courses and by promoting  wider awareness of the career options that such courses open up.

The key recommendations to have come from this current study are:


  • Courses in core subjects need to be sustained at all levels
  • The UK should allow (and properly fund) a norm of eight years from starting as an undergraduate to finishing with a PhD. Within this framework, there should be flexibility of timescales and mode of study to suit students and the subject matter
  • The UK should be defended as a destination of choice for higher education studies

During this study the Society issued a call for evidence and received submissions from the following organisations. Click on the organisation to view their submission.