CBI blames education system for lack of scientists and engineers

The education system – and not employers – is squarely to blame for the rapidly falling number of science and engineering graduates in the UK, the CBI has insisted.

This year’s A-level results, published last week, once again revealed the number of science students continued to fall in the UK, prompting serious fears that the UK will soon lose its place as a centre of high-tech innovation.

Figures show that, in the past 20 years, the number of students studying physics A-level has fallen by 56%, and the number of chemistry students by 37%. High-tech industries will need 2.4 million new workers by 2014 to fill skills gaps, but last year only 32,000 undergraduates achieved degrees in physics, engineering or technology.

CBI director-general, Richard Lambert, said thousands of potential scientists were being lost because of a stripped-down science curriculum, a lack of specialist teachers and uninspiring careers advice.

Employers have been criticised in some quarters for not playing their part in changing negative stereotypes about scientists and engineers, but Lambert refuted the claims. “Companies are doing lots of things, but they are pushing against the tide,” he told Personnel Today. “It’s very hard-going in an environment like this.”

In related news, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) has warned that many graduates entering the job market cannot get work because they expect too much from employers.

Statistics released last week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that the number of graduates out of work six months after leaving university has risen to 6%. This is despite a large rise in the number of graduate vacancies, which this year grew at the fastest rate for 12 years, according to AGR figures.

Carl Gilleard, chairman of the AGR, said some students had unrealistic hopes of the jobs that would be available to them but “were no longer prepared to downgrade their expectations”.

“Just because someone is a graduate doesn’t mean they are employable,” he said. “Going to university is not a passport into a graduate job.”

Graduate job vacancies on the rise

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