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STEM Subjects

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016

Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Government are fully committed to making the UK the best place in the world to do science. The number of full-time students accepted to study STEM subjects in England is up 17% since 2010. Initiatives such as the STEM ambassadors programme and the new Polar Explorer programme are providing inspiration for young people to consider STEM careers.

To what extent can studio schools, such as the excellent Space Studio in Banbury and the new Bicester Technology Studio school, be used to promote the take-up of STEM subjects later in a student’s career, whether that is at university or as part of an apprenticeship?

That is right: studio schools are pioneering a new and valuable approach to learning and are focusing on equipping students with a wide range of employability skills and academic qualifications. Schools such as the ones my hon. Friend mentioned in Banbury and the one in Bicester that will open in September give students the opportunity to work with specialist employers such as the UK and European space agencies and those in the fields of technology, sustainable construction, engineering and computing.

As vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy, I am extremely keen to get more women into the nuclear industry and into studying STEM subjects at school and university, because we cannot meet the skills shortage without attracting more women and girls into engineering. I was therefore really pleased to hear the Minister agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) about the need to get in much earlier, at primary school level, if girls are going to take that subject right the way through to higher education. What specific action are the Government taking to achieve that aim, and how will they take into account the good work that we are already carrying out in west Cumbria?

The Government continue to work with all partners to raise awareness and interest in STEM careers. Initiatives such as the Inspiring Science Capital Fund, a £30 million programme that we launched with the Wellcome Trust, STEM Ambassadors, which is a £5 million-a-year programme, the Polar Explorer programme I have already mentioned, and the industry-led Your Life campaign are providing inspiration for young people to consider STEM careers. I am pleased to say that over 50% of STEM undergraduates are now women.

The Minister will know how important EU research funding is to our universities, particularly in relation to STEM subjects. He will also know that those leading the leave campaign promised that no sector would lose out as a result of Brexit. Forget about the next two years—if I could push him on his earlier answer, what will he be doing to ensure that UK Government funds replace European funding, pound for pound, in supporting research in our universities?

We remain members of the European Union. Our institutions are fully able to apply for and win European competitive funding schemes, and they will continue to be able to do so until such time as we change the basis of our relationship with Horizon 2020.