IET: Danger of students going for cheaper but less useful degrees must be avoided

Lord Browne’s report on the future of education should have gone further in supporting degrees that make the biggest contribution to the UK economy.

Europe’s largest professional society of engineers (the IET) believes the amount of undergraduates studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is still not enough to fill the skills gap currently experienced by industry.

Over one third of engineering companies report a lack of confidence in recruiting enough suitably qualified professionals to meet the needs of their businesses. In England, 21% of job vacancies in science, engineering, manufacturing and technology are already deemed hard to fill due to a shortage of skills.

Engineering degrees are more expensive than many other degrees to deliver, and as a result they have been under-funded in our university system for many years. It is welcome that the government is looking to address this.

However, if all of the higher costs associated with engineering degrees are passed on directly to undergraduates, this is likely to have a knock on affect on the number of graduates, exacerbating these skills shortages in industry.

We agree with Lord Browne that “There are clinical and priority courses such as medicine, science and engineering that are important to the well being of our society and to our economy. The costs of these courses are high and, if students were asked to meet all of the costs, there is a risk that they would choose to study cheaper courses instead”.

The IET therefore believes that government investment in degrees should be focused particularly on priority courses, such as engineering, to avoid excessive rises in tuition fees for these subjects.

Paul Davies, Head of Policy at the IET said, “If the government follows Lord Browne’s recommendations, it is absolutely vital that the amount of money it invests is enough to keep tuition fees for economically critical degree courses at least on a par with the fees for social sciences and humanities.”

In addition to Lord Browne’s proposals, the government would need to put in place a mechanism to ensure that tuition fees for economically important subjects like engineering do not rise to the extent that students opt for less expensive courses and inadvertently starve the UK of much needed scientists and engineers.


Notes to Editors

Interviews with policy and education experts are available upon request.

Hard to fill vacancies information from National Employer Skills Survey for England 2009.

Lack of confidence among engineering employers reported by an IET survey in 2010. More details are on the Factfiles section of the IET website

The Institution of Engineering and Technology distributes £200,000 every year in scholarships and awards.

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