22 SES 05 C, Employability and Transition to Work of Higher Education Graduates
In an economy and a society with increasing demands for scientific- and technological-based goods and services, a shortage of appropriately skilled workers is considered to be a threat to a country’s ‘productivity, competitive position and level of innovation’ (Greenfieldet al 2002:27). Improving the recruitment, retention and training of the next generation of STEM professionals is an area of perennial concern for policy makers in the UK and elsewhere. ‘Crisis’ accounts of falling levels of engagement in STEM subjects at local and international levels have been well-documented (e.g. Leitch Review of Skills 2006, Convert 2005).However, the existence of a STEM ‘skills deficit’ has not gone unchallenged. As far back as the 1960s, widespread political concerns about a ‘swing from science’ were being questioned by economists who saw the issue as a ‘mass of contradictions’ compounded by a lack of understanding about what labour market demandactually meant (Gannicott and Blaug 1969:57). More recent work undertaken in the UK on behalf of the Commission of Employment and Skills (2011:4) has also concluded that skills shortage vacancies in STEM sectors are generally low and that that the supply of STEM skills is ‘more than sufficient to meet demand’. See also Teitelbaum 2003 for a perspective on the USA.
The two decade expansion of the UK Higher Education system has meant that more scientists are being trained than ever before. In 2010, almost 200,000 students began studying for full-time undergraduate degrees in science and science-related subjects: a number that has trebled since 1986 (Smith 2010). The consequences of both increasing and widening participation has led to doubts being expressed about whether the demand for graduates by employers has kept up with the supply and whether, as a result, large proportions of graduates find themselves in non-graduate jobs for which they may be over-qualified (Elias and Purcell 2004, Green and Zhu 2010). STEM subjects occupy a privileged position in UK government HE policy. They have enhanced status as ‘strategically important and vulnerable’ subjects and, in the context of funding cuts to the HE sector in England, are the key area identified for ‘enhanced support’ by both the previous Labour government and the current Coalition administration (DIU 2009:45).Like many of the proposed solutions to the apparent STEM recruitment crisis, these measures focus mainly on the supply side (i.e. schools and universities) and urge action to increase the numbers of students pursuing degrees in science and engineering.
This paper contributes to the debate on graduate recruitment patterns in the context of the supply and demand for STEM workers by examining the early career destinations of STEM graduates from UK universities. It will address the following research questions:
- How have the early destinations of STEM graduates varied since the mid-1990s?
- To what extent do early destinations vary by institution type and subject of study?
- What are the first occupational destinations of STEM graduates and how do these vary by subject studied?
- What are the patterns of participation in STEM sector employment according to gender?
Convert, B. (2005). Europe and the crisis in scientific vocations. European Journal of Education, 40(4), 361–366. DIU (2009) The Demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Skills. Available at: www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/corporate/migratedd/publications/d/ demand_for_stem_kills.pdf (accessed March 2010). Elias, P., Purcell, K., (2004), Researching Graduate Careers Seven Years On, SOC (HE): A classification of occupations for studying the graduate labour market, Research paper No. 6, Warwick Institute for Employment Research, accessed from www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/ier/research/completed/7yrs2/rp6.pdf Gannicott. K.G., Blaug, M., (1969), Manpower Forecasting since Robbins: A Science Lobby in Action, Higher Education Review, 2 (1): 56. Green, F., Zhu, Y., (2010), Overqualification, job dissatisfaction, and increasing dispersion in the returns to graduate education, Oxford Economic Papers 62, pp740–763 Greenfield, S., Peters, J., Lane, N., Rees, T. and Samuels, G. (2002) A Report on Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, accessed March 2010 from http://extra.shu.ac.uk/nrc/section_2/publications/reports/R1182_SET_Fair_Report.pdf. Leitch Review of Skills (2006) Prosperity for All in the Global Economy – World Class Skills: Final Report (London, HMSO). HESA, (2012), Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Institutions, 2010/11, Cheltenham: Higher Education Statistics Agency Smith, E. (2010) Do we need more scientists? A long term view of patterns of participation in UK Undergraduate Science Programmes, Cambridge Journal of Education, 40 (3), 281–298. Teitelbaum, M.S. (2003) Do we need more scientists? The Public Interest, Fall, 40–53. UKCES (2011), The supply of and demand for high- level STEM skills, UK Commission for Employment and Skills: Briefing paper, December 2011, accessed from www.ukces.org.uk/assets/ukces/docs/publications/briefing-paper-the-supply-of-and-demand-for-high-level-stem-skills.pdf
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