Encouraging Young People into STEM

Author : EPDT Contributor Juliette Lang

20 November 2023

Caption: The University of Strathclyde underlines its strong STEM focus through numerous programs
Caption: The University of Strathclyde underlines its strong STEM focus through numerous programs

Though significant strides have been made in increasing the proportion of UK students taking STEM-related courses in the tertiary phase of their education, there is still very clearly a lot of work left to be done - and no academic institution can be complacent in this respect.

Data from UCAS shows that engineering course acceptance is up by over 21% on what it was a decade ago (going from around 26,000 back then to 32,000 today). According to the latest figures from Statista, 26% of UK graduates have taken STEM-based courses. Though that doesn’t sound too bad, and is ahead of other G7 nations like the USA and France, it is still far below what Germany is achieving (at approximately 36%). In order to maximise engagement with future generations and motivate them to study STEM subjects, the University of Strathclyde has established several outreach projects that are proving very effective.

Engineering the future for girls 
Proactively addressing the gender imbalance within engineering degree courses is critical. UCAS has recorded a 49% rise in females taking STEM undergraduate courses in UK universities over the last decade. Nevertheless, the numbers opting to take certain subjects are still unacceptably low. Making the addressing of gender imbalance a top priority, for over 7 years the University of Strathclyde has run a 4-day program each summer - with more than 100 girls in S3 (the 14-15 age group) from different schools attending annually. The girls are introduced to all types of engineering through various challenges that will give them inspiration and make them better aware of the possible career options available. They get to attend talks by members of the university’s engineering faculty, as well as presentations from industry partners like BAM Nuttall, West Fraser and the Weir Group (who provide funding for the program). As Professor Stephen McArthur, Executive Dean of Engineering, notes; “Since running the program, more girls are actively choosing engineering…and then coming back as role models and ambassadors.”

Space-related activities
One of the university’s longest-running outreach programs is the Scottish Space School. Over 2,000 pupils have taken part since 2002. Drawn from S5 school pupils (aged 16-17), successful candidates attend the university campus for a week, where they enjoy meeting NASA representatives and hearing lectures from them. They also take part in engineering group activities, projects and engage with academic staff. The program showcases the possibilities of using engineering in the exciting realm of space exploration/travel. Furthermore, the 8 best students from the Scottish Space School are offered a unique opportunity to visit the Johnson Space Centre in Houston. 

Young Strathclyder
Here, around 1,750 pupils in total from primary schools' S2 (aged 13-14) and S5 years participate in sustained interaction throughout their education. Primary schools in P5 (aged 8-9), P6 (9-10) and P7 (10-11) have a full day’s participation in fun-oriented learning activities. The senior pupils choose from 7 week-long subject-specific challenge programs, being led through these by undergraduate and postgraduate student mentors. 4 of the 2023 Accelerate challenges for 16/17 year-olds are officially credit-rated on the Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework. This means that pupils who pass the formal assessments are awarded 5 credit points at level 7 - the equivalent to the Scottish Advanced Higher or first year university work. 

Caption: Attendees at the Scottish Space School learning from a NASA veteran
Caption: Attendees at the Scottish Space School learning from a NASA veteran

Explorathon ‘23
In September, Strathclyde joined the University of Aberdeen, University of St Andrews and the University of Glasgow at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow for Explorathon ’23. A European-wide initiative which focuses on ‘Making Research Real’ through free public events. Strathclyde had around 13 research stations in the Science and Engineering section.

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