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What value science and technology degrees?


While the dotcom meltdown has dented prospects, IT graduates can still find good jobs in a buoyant economy, as can electronics engineers and biotechnologists. But not all science, technology, and computing (STC) degrees are of equal value in the labour market, and technical skills alone are not enough. Graduates need to be numerate and have good interpersonal skills if they are to succeed in today’s labour market of contrasts.

Institute of Employment Studies (IES) Director, and co-author of the The IES Graduate Review report, Richard Pearson said:

‘We welcome Gordon Brown’s commissioning of the Roberts Review into the supply and demand for skilled researchers, scientists and technologists. IES Research shows that the science and technology labour market is diverse and has many contrasting features. In key areas of STC such as computing, and some areas of engineering, skill shortages abound, yet the numbers entering degree courses are falling. In the life sciences and other STC areas, however, many new graduates struggle to find suitable employment.’

While the UK produces as many scientists and technologists as most of its OECD competitors, years of expansion and campaigns to boost women’s participation in technology-based subjects has still not dented the traditional gender bias. While women now comprise over half of full-time undergraduates, and nearly 60 per cent in the biological sciences (including over 80 per cent in psychology), there are lows of 14 per cent in engineering, 21 per cent in computing, and under 20 per cent in physics (see Summary, Figure 1).

The IES research also shows a great dependency on overseas nationals at postgraduate level, especially in engineering and technology, where overseas students account for over half the postgraduates. The importance of these high representations is that many non-EU nationals will not be available to work in the UK labour market, although work permits are getting easier to obtain in areas where there are recruitment difficulties (see Summary, Table 1).

In summary, Richard Pearson highlighted some of the contrasts:

‘The numbers studying and graduating in computing have been rising fast and are still predominantly male. After graduation, they are the most likely to be in graduate jobs. The numbers studying and qualifying in engineering and technology have, however, been falling, despite being in demand and having positive employment outcomes; they are again predominately male. The boom subjects in terms of numbers graduating have been the biological sciences, where women still predominate, yet they continue to show the weakest transitions into employment, with lower propensities to be in ‘graduate’ jobs. The numbers graduating in these subjects are, however, expected to fall from 2001 onwards.’

The study

The IES Graduate Review provides a series of briefings, and key facts and figures on the graduate labour market. Published earlier this year,

  • Part 1, focused on the changing supply trends, while
  • Part 2 focused on the jobs and experiences of those graduating and entering employment.
  • Part 3 now provides a more in-depth examination of the position of those in IT, engineering and science subjects.
The Review builds on previous editions of the IES Graduate Review, and it draws on and synthesises a wide range of other published material. It has been prepared for the IES Research Club, whose membership comprises 25 of the UK’s leading employers and graduate recruiters.

The three parts are:

The Diverse Graduate Supply
Graduating into Employment
Science, Technology and Computing Graduates

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