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Engineering Courses

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9th February 2006.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 10:30 am, 9th February 2006

What her policy is on the provision of education courses for engineers; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

We have established an employer-led sector skills council, the Science Engineering Manufacturing Technologies Alliance—SEMTA—to help shape the provision of learning and training for engineers. SEMTA is currently working on one of the first new specialised diplomas in engineering for 14 to 16-year-olds and is developing sector skills agreements to assess the skill needs of the industry and will inform the engineering teaching supplied in colleges and higher education.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Is the Minister aware that Harper Adams university college, Telford college of art and technology and the university of Wolverhampton have a proud tradition of supplying engineers to the public and private sectors in Shropshire? But is he also aware that his colleagues in other Departments are slowly dismantling the defence and manufacturing sectors in my constituency, so what is the point of young people going into engineering, particularly engineering apprenticeships, if there are no jobs for them?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

I congratulate the colleges to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which are doing an excellent job providing good-quality training for young people as a result of the extra funding we made available to schools and colleges in his constituency. I understand his concern and that of others about decisions being made by the Ministry of Defence, and I am sure that the MOD will take full account of his representations and those of other Members with similar concerns. I had the privilege of making presentations to the top apprentices in the armed forces; they are fabulous young people, doing a brilliant job and providing much more security for our nation because their talents are in our armed services.

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner Labour, Nuneaton

Will my hon. Friend constantly talk up all engineering skills? I thank him for the very good speech he made last night at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which itself wants to promote engineering, unlike Opposition colleagues. There is a huge skills gap and we must address it.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. It is true that every product and every activity of this country relies on the skills of engineers. Without engineers the bright ideas that we know are out there stay on the drawing board. Engineers are absolutely essential to the future of our nation's economy and the prosperity of all our businesses. Last night's reception at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers was excellent; many MPs attended to support engineering in the UK. I pay tribute to them and to companies such as Rolls-Royce and initiatives such as formula student, where universities work with businesses to make a real success of promoting the UK's engineering skills.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I hope that the House will join me in congratulating Harlington school in my constituency on achieving specialist science college status this week. However, we are all concerned that a number of university science departments have closed over the past two years. Will the Minister explain the rationale of establishing science colleges while closing university science departments?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

I am delighted that Harlington school has benefited from extra Government investment to support science in schools. There is a positive and growing relationship between universities and industry in developing new courses to ensure that the industry recruits the type of students, especially engineers, as well as science and manufacturing specialists, who can provide new developments. Partnership is the most important thing—between universities and organisations and companies such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus. Such partnerships will ensure that we deliver both quality and the quantity of skilled engineers that our country requires.

Photo of Ashok Kumar Ashok Kumar PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development

As a former chemical engineer, I too congratulate the Minister on his speech at the institution. As the Government are seriously considering and exploring the nuclear option for our energy programme, has my hon. Friend assessed whether we have adequate undergraduates studying physics and nuclear engineering to deliver that option?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks—perhaps I should quit while I am ahead.

We are attracting more undergraduates to science courses. This year, there has been a 10 per cent. increase in the number of applicants for science courses, so we are making huge progress. Perhaps some of the science and engineering skills that those young people are developing will be needed by the Conservatives as they develop their new flip-flop machine.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Minister's leader in waiting—the Chancellor—says that our

"economic destiny . . . depends upon establishing leadership in skills", but the Leitch review reported that even if the Government meet their target for skills by 2020,

"at least 4 million adults will still not have literacy skills expected of an 11 year old and 12 million" will be without the equivalent numeracy skills. It said that the UK will be

"positioned at best, in the middle of the OECD ranking" for skills.

As the Minister said, engineering is key, yet the sector skills council says that registrations for level 3 qualifications have dropped by 36 per cent. and that level 4 certifications are at "a very low level". No wonder the national employer skills survey shows that skills shortages account for 13,000 vacancies in engineering alone. Why has not the Minister grasped that we have a skills crisis, and furthermore—

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify a real challenge that faces us. We have trebled the number of apprenticeships from 70,000 a year to 255,000 a year, and completion rates are going up, too, but we need to go further. We have delivered 3.5 million courses in basic skills and 1 million adults have received basic skills qualifications. The train2gain programme will provide free training for employers, up to a full level 2 qualification, and we are trialling level 3 pilots in the north-west and the west midlands to provide training for employers that need level 3 qualifications. We are delivering a huge and ambitious skills strategy, so I hope that we will have support from both sides of the House to ensure that it is a success.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

I am sorry to have missed what sounds like an excellent speech by the Minister last night. May I assure him that there remains in the west midlands a first-class network of engineering, aerospace and technological skills? Will he assure his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence that if they locate defence training projects in the region, they will be able to plug into an excellent network of engineering skills and training resources?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Education and Skills

I will draw the remarks of my hon. Friend and others to the attention of my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. The important thing is that we drive forward the skills agenda as it is appropriate to local areas. We know, for example, that engineering and manufacturing are a priority for future funding in the west midlands. We thus need to ensure that when we roll out the level 3 training pilots engineering becomes a particular priority so that we can deliver the engineers whom we need to make our economy a success.