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Science: Education

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills what research his Department and its predecessors have (a) undertaken and (b) commissioned in the last three years on the effect of Government-funded science awareness initiatives on the number of young people studying courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and if he will make a statement. (282053)

There is good evidence that participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) enrichment activities improves young people's progression in science education. A recent OECD study “Science Competencies for tomorrow's world” (PISA 2006) shows that students in schools that hold more extracurricular science activities tend to perform better than their counterparts in schools that run fewer activities. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and its predecessor departments have funded a number of initiatives with the specific aim of providing enrichment and enhancement activities for young people, thereby increasing numbers taking these subjects at GCSE level and beyond.

We have undertaken several studies on the impact of those Government-funded initiatives whose aim is to increase the numbers of young people studying STEM subjects. It is not usually possible to prove a quantitative causal link between any one initiative and impact on numbers, because many factors affect the decision-making process when choosing specific courses.

Recent studies include:

An evaluation of SETNET (now STEMNET), published in 2007, carried out by the Tavistock Institute. STEMNET has recently commissioned a follow-up evaluation, which will be published next year.

In July 2008, DIUS commissioned a study on the impact of science centres on both numbers studying STEM and wider public engagement with science. Science centres in England are principally funded by users and regional or charitable bodies, rather than by central Government. The research compares the contribution of science centres to STEM objective with that of a number of Government-funded initiatives, including STEMNET's STEM ambassadors programme, outreach work of the Royal Academy of Engineering (including the London Engineering Programme), Research Councils UK, and the British Science Association (including the CREST Star Investigator programme). This research will be published shortly.

In January 2009 DIUS published a report on “the Demand for STEM skills” which reviewed the evidence from employers on STEM recruitment alongside analysis of the supply of young people with STEM qualifications and their labour market outcomes. The report included recent trends of STEM qualifications at A Level, First Degree and Postgraduate levels. In addition, DIUS commissioned the Warwick Institute of Employment Research to provide some benchmark projections and associated implications of the demand and supply of STEM graduates. These studies identify the important contribution made by STEM enrichment activities in stimulating interest among young people and their increased attractiveness to employers which results.

On 26 May 2009, DIUS launched a Science and Society strategy, which tackles the five key themes identified in last year's public consultation. In so doing we will develop a more coherent approach to evaluating the impacts of science and society initiatives, including those related to STEM enrichment and enhancement, and the take-up of STEM courses by young people.