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Green-collar Jobs

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

4. What steps he is taking to encourage more people to develop the skills required for green-collar jobs through studying science, engineering and technology subjects at universities. (252517)

The Government believe that we should take a strategic approach to future skills needs. The demands of the low-carbon economy and our future economic challenges tell us that we need more high-level skills in STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects. We have already invested £29 million in additional university student numbers for STEM. We have also invested £76 million for capacity building in strategically important subjects, including STEM. Last week’s grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council set out the need for further investment in STEM and for universities to meet the needs of employers.

I thank the Minister for that response. Last Friday I visited the university of the West of England, which is keen to play its role in equipping people for green-collar jobs. However, there is a problem that many students who study humanities or arts subjects develop a real interest in environmental issues, but do not have the qualifications to go on to take postgraduate applied science courses. How can the Minister help such students to make the transition into green-collar jobs?

I am not surprised to learn that my hon. Friend was recently at her local university because she is a tireless champion of every sector of her constituency. I think that I know the answer to her question. As I understood it, she was asking how we get people who study humanities subjects into the STEM-related, green-collar jobs in which they have become interested. I have to say that the answer is that they need to do STEM-related degrees at university if they want to get STEM-related jobs. We are getting more people into STEM-related jobs, and we will need more, but the message has to go out that if people want modern, innovative, interesting green-sector jobs, they need to do STEM-related subjects at GCSE, A-level and university.

That was a most helpful comment for someone who has just done an arts degree at university, especially as equivalent level qualification funding has been totally taken away.

There is support on both sides of the House for the idea of growing the number of STEM undergraduates, because that is exactly what our economy needs. I acknowledge that, since 2004, there has been a slight reverse of the disastrous trend that occurred between 1997 and 2004. However, does the Minister agree that we need to influence what happens in schools, although he has no control over that, and that we need to influence what universities offer, although he has no control over that either? Furthermore, the Secretary of State has just issued a moratorium on additional places in our universities. How will we grow the number of STEM graduates if we stop people going to university?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I have to tell him that good things happen in government over which we have no control, including what goes on in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which last year succeeded in increasing the number of applications for STEM A-levels, just as we got the number of STEM university applications up last year. Across the board, we have a commitment to getting young people to do STEM subjects through A-level and on to university.

The hon. Gentleman said that it was no use telling people who have just done an arts subject to study a STEM degree if they want a STEM-related job. However, I must tell him the hard truth that if people want a STEM-related job, they need to do a STEM-related degree.

What more can my hon. Friend do to encourage schools to work with universities, such as those in Plymouth that have international reputations in marine and environmental science, to encourage people to look to science for a career? Science is vital for green-sector development.

My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate of her constituency’s educational institutions. Earlier, the Minister of State talked about Aimhigher, which builds exactly such links, and the academies programme is building similar links. Outstanding work is being done in not just her constituency but all over the country.