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Education: Overseas Students

House of Lords written question – answered on 12th May 2011.

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Photo of Lord Laird Lord Laird UUP

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will address the skill gaps and shortages in the United Kingdom outlined recently by Professor Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, Professor Edward Acton, vice-chancellor, University of East Anglia; Professor Dave Wark, Imperial College London, and Simeon Underwood, academic registrar, London School of Economics at the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on overseas students; and how these shortages have been allowed to develop.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Professor Smith's evidence highlighted the important contribution made by higher education students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses, towards the development of a strong knowledge economy within the UK.

Her Majesty's Government recognise the value of a strong supply of STEM graduates and the Departments for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and for Education work closely together to ensure that policies and measures supporting the development of a strong STEM pipeline are coherent. Indeed, in 2009-10, 43 per cent of UK-domiciled first degree students took science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses.

BIS supports a range of measures promoting STEM careers and occupations, including funding STEMNET and the STEM ambassadors programme. STEMNET is a UK-wide organisation, whose purpose is to ensure that all young people, regardless of background, are encouraged to understand the excitement and importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their lives and the career opportunities to which these subjects can lead.

BIS also contributes to the cost of the Big Bang Fair and supports the National Science and Engineering Competition in partnership with a number of organisations, and funds opportunities to engage in National Science and Engineering Week.

Government aim to ensure that STEM, and higher education courses in general, better equip students with the skills to help maximise their employment chances. All universities have now set out in employability statements the range of support they provide to students to help develop the skills employers value.

This Government will enable prospective students to make better informed decisions concerning career choices. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is working with the higher education sector to ensure that all institutions publish, on a course-by-course basis, a standard set of 17 key information items. Four such will help prospective students to better understand where their course might lead in employment terms.

BIS continues to work closely with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, giving employers a lead role in a skills system that is more responsive to their needs. The science cluster of sector skills councils undertake strategic planning and review of activity across sectors dependent upon STEM skills, and aim to provide a responsive fit between STEM skills provision and the needs of employers in their sectors.

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