STEM Matters: EngineeringUK analysis – Educational pathways into engineering

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 August 2020

EngineeringUK report – Educational pathways into engineering front_580x280
EngineeringUK report – Educational pathways into engineering front_580x280

For more than 20 years, EngineeringUK, the not-for-profit organisation working in partnership with the STEM community to inspire tomorrow’s engineers & increase the STEM talent pipeline, have published a comprehensive report on the state of engineering in the UK – covering educational routes into engineering, as well as key statistics describing the sector & its workforce.

This column was originally featured in the August 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Its new report, ‘Educational Pathways into Engineering’ was written before the pandemic and provides a comprehensive picture of the trends in STEM educational participation and attainment across academic and technical pathways into engineering as at March 2020.

A central part of EngineeringUK’s work is to provide educators, policy-makers and industry with  the most up-to-date analyses and insight on the sector. Since 2005, its EngineeringUK State of Engineering report has reviewed the breadth of the sector, how it is changing and who is working within it, as well as quantifying students on educational pathways into engineering and assessing whether they will meet future workforce needs. Despite numerous changes of government and educational policy, the 2007-08 financial crash and the advent of Brexit, the need for the UK to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is now providing the most uncertain and challenging context to date for the research.

In the wake of this unprecedented crisis, EngineeringUK is urging those in education, government and industry to work together to foster the critical engineering and technology skills needed for the UK to be a leader in innovation and improve the nation’s societal and economic resilience and environmental sustainability.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

Some of the report’s findings indicate that progress has been made: more young people are studying GCSE and A level subjects that lead into engineering, while technical education reforms are also enabling students to be more prepared for the world of work. However, young people’s knowledge of engineering across all education stages still needs to be improved, with just 42% of boys and 31% of girls saying they know what they need to do next to become an engineer. There is also an acute shortage of STEM subject teachers in both secondary and further education. Almost three quarters of FE college principals rank engineering as the most difficult subject to recruit sufficiently qualified teaching staff for.

The report also highlights the increased urgency of creating more opportunities for under-represented groups in engineering, including those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds – whose challenges are likely to have been accentuated by lockdown – as well as the need to address inequities for young people from BAME backgrounds, with Black pupils 2.5 times more likely to be misallocated to a lower set in maths than White pupils.

And while there was a higher proportion of entrants to engineering & technology degrees from minority ethnic backgrounds (30%) than among the student population as a whole (26%), 73% achieved a first or upper second degree, compared with 83% of their White counterparts. These ethnicity attainment gaps were also observed across HE more widely, suggesting there are systemic issues within the UK HE system that need to be addressed.

Dr Hilary Leevers, EngineeringUK Chief Executive 2020_580x280
Dr Hilary Leevers, EngineeringUK Chief Executive 2020_580x280

Dr Hilary Leevers, EngineeringUK Chief Executive said: “‘Educational Pathways into Engineering’ was written before the coronavirus pandemic took hold – which seems a world away now. We decided to publish the report as planned to highlight the barriers that existed prior to the pandemic – and that are now likely to mean it’s even more challenging, and only more important to increase the number and diversity of young people choosing engineering.

We need to work together to understand what causes under-representation of certain groups of young people progressing into engineering and how tackle it at every stage. We need to: improve knowledge of engineering throughout the curriculum; support teachers and schools to deliver high quality STEM education and careers guidance; and ensure that our education system is fit to cultivate the skills needed for the UK, both now and in the future.

The full ‘Educational Pathways into Engineering’ report can be viewed and downloaded at:

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