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Research Careers

Volume 480: debated on Thursday 16 October 2008

The Government are currently looking at Professor Nigel Thrift's review of research careers in the UK, commissioned as part of the higher education debate launched earlier this year. We expect it to help in developing our approach to higher education and research careers in the longer term.

There has been a 100 per cent. pass rate in all science subjects among students at Woodham community technology college in my constituency. What is the Department doing to ensure that those young people’s fascination with science today turns into successful careers in science tomorrow?

I applaud the work being done in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which places the institution to which he referred among the very best in the country. He is absolutely right: encouraging an ability in and an enthusiasm for science among young people is key to the country’s success in the coming years, and we are working closely with our colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families to achieve that. It is important that young adult scientists are returning to schools, and we are supporting that through our science and engineering ambassadors throughout the country. It is also important that we are supporting young people in those key stem subjects—chemistry, physics and mathematics—with an extra £15 million of investment over the next year.

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities in relation to science. Does he recognise the particular challenge involved in recruiting and retaining women in research careers? Given that they leave universities with high levels of debt, face a continuing pay gap and, indeed, publication gaps due to family commitments, and given that we are starting from a low base—especially in some areas—is there not a particular need for Government to give research councils and other employers the tools to enable us to do better by women in science? We need to retain their talents in research.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He will, I hope, be aware of the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) to ensure that women are represented in science and engineering. Indeed, I did some work about that with my hon. Friend in my previous role as Minster with responsibility for skills. The Government have provided direct funding, including pilot funding, to encourage women in those spheres. We are also working with training organisations and trade bodies, particularly in engineering and science, to support women in their careers, including when they are on career breaks because we recognise that when women who have been trained and have an extensive science background leave work to have children, they often come back into science employment at a lower grade, or are unable to regain the positions that they left. We want to support the work of those organisations and trade bodies to ensure that those women are pioneers within science.