ERG SES F 02, Parallel Session F 02
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), and the education of these subjects, is the focus of much political attention, policy and research in the UK, Europe, and world-wide (Baldwin, 2009, Convert, 2005, Haas, 2005, Roberts, 2002, HMT, 2006). Debates in this area suggest shortages of STEM experts completing Higher Education (HE) (Roberts, 2002) and entering STEM careers (OECD, 2007, Butz et al, 2006). Improving this situation is seen as crucial in ensuring national economies and industries can compete globally (HMT, 2006). The research set out here aims to contribute knowledge to this international issue by exploring whether the expectations of students about to start STEM degrees differ to those of students starting non-STEM courses, and how these expectations then affect the student experience.
In the UK, the National Student Survey (NSS) is a useful source for course satisfaction data. It is a questionnaire available to final-year students at most UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) (HESA, 2010). Secondary data analysis of NSS results for the purpose of this study identified differences in satisfaction patterns between STEM and non-STEM students. Previous research exploring student attrition and dissatisfaction (Rowley et al, 2008 for example), suggests links between satisfaction and expectations. Identifying differences in satisfaction has therefore prompted this particular investigation; how different are the expectations of STEM and non-STEM students prior to entry? Do differences begin before or after students start their courses? This explores a potentially important contributing factor to student dissatisfaction and disengagement. Building upon existing research, it specifically addresses those subjects seen internationally as most important.
This research forms part of a larger study exploring HE STEM in the UK. For the wider research, UK–wide HE participation figures, student satisfaction rates, and post-HE outcomes (HESA, 2010) are examined alongside information generated from surveying, observing and interviewing a sample of undergraduates at the University of Birmingham, a UK city-centre HEI. HE STEM participation, engagement, and satisfaction data is analysed for the UK and overseas, giving the national and international perspectives. More locally, the in-depth elements of the study are used to explore the differences between STEM students’ pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences. Compared with data evaluating how satisfied these students report themselves to be, any links between satisfaction and ‘unmet’ or ‘false’ expectations are identified.
In considering relevant literature when designing the study, research from the UK and international research have been equally as important, therefore it is anticipated that this research is useful to academics, educators and policy-makers throughout Europe.
Baldwin, R.G., (2009), The Climate for Undergraduate Teaching and Learning in STEM Fields, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 117, pp.9-17 Bennett, R., and Kottasz, R., (2006), Widening Participation and Student Expectations of Higher Education, International Journal of Management Education, 5(2), pp.47-65 Butz, W.P., Bloom, G.A., Gross, M.E., Kelly, T.K., Kofner, A., Rippen, H.E., (2006), Is there a shortage of scientists and engineers? Issue Paper: Science and Technology, California: The RAND Corporation Convert, B., (2005), Europe and the Crisis in Scientific Vocations, European Journal of Education, 40(4), pp.361-366 Gorard, S., and Taylor, C., (2004), Combining Methods in Educational and Social Research, Berkshire: Open University Press Haas, J., (2005), The Situation in Industry and the Loss of Interest in Science Education, European Journal of Education, 40(4), pp.405-416 HESA, (2010), The Higher Education Statistics Agency, [online], Accessed October 2010 from: http://www.hesa.ac.uk/ HM Treasury, (2006), Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014: Next Steps, [online], accessed August 2009 from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/budget/budget_06/assoc_docs/bud_bud06_adscience.cfm Long, P., and Tricker, T., (2004), Do Undergraduates Find What They Expect? [online], Accessed December 2009 from: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003696.htm Muijs, D. (2004) Doing Quantitative Research in Education with SPSS, London: Sage OECD (2007), Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), accessed September 2008 from http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/15/13/39725224.pdf Roberts, G., (2002), SET for Success: The study of people with science, technology engineering and mathematical skills, London: HMSO. Rowley, M., Hartley, J., and Larkin, D., (2008), Learning from Experience: the Expectations and Experiences of First-year Undergraduate Psychology Students, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32(4), pp.399-413 Seymour, E., Hewitt, N.M., (1997), Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences, Colorado: Westview Press. Yorke, M., and Longden, B., (2004), Retention and Success in Higher Education, Berkshire: Open University Press
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