Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo




STEM Subjects

17 September 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Robin Newton (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Alex Attwood
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Easton
Mr David Hilditch
Mr Willian Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty

Mr David Hatton )
Mr Stephen Lusty ) Institution of Engineering and Technology
Professor Roger Woods )

The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey):
The Institution of Engineering and Technology, one of the world’s leading professional societies in its field, with 150,000 members and 8 offices worldwide, has been asked to brief members on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects from academic and vocational perspectives. The institution has also flagged up employers’ concerns that there will not be a sufficient pool of young people with STEM skills to provide the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Mr Stephen Lusty (Institution of Engineering and Technology):
Madam Chairman and members, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. We are members of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which, as has been said, has 150,000 members worldwide. The institution represents the leading body of technology-based professionals in the English-speaking world.

I am the chairman of the Northern Ireland engineering policy group, which is a focus group that is drawn from many sectors: academia; Invest Northern Ireland; major industrialists; the Engineering Training Council; and the universities. We provide a service to bodies such as the Committee by providing input on policy or an independent view on any technology-related matters, and we are at your disposal.

I am a Northern Ireland-educated industrialist and am currently the European operations director for Google. I am involved in a bunch of start-up companies in the Northern Ireland area.

Professor Roger Woods (Institution of Engineering and Technology):
I am a professor of digital systems in the school of electronics, electrical engineering and computer science at Queen’s University. I am also involved in the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), which is based in the science park. I am involved in the day-to-day teaching of students and also actively involved in research.

Mr David Hatton (Institution of Engineering and Technology):
I am from the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETCNI), which is a representative body for engineering in Northern Ireland. It also represents the interests of Semta, the sector skills council for science, engineering, manufacturing and technology. ETCNI puts the employers first, examining their educational and skills needs and assessing the supply of training from the colleges, universities and private training providers in an attempt to meet those specific needs.

Mr Lusty:
Today, we want to give the Committee our view on STEM subjects and how they affect the economy. We are aware of Dr Hugh Cormican’s initiative to review STEM subjects throughout Northern Ireland, and we have been working with him and providing input. We will support some flavours of that today. However, our greatest value to the Committee, both in answering questions today and as far as any future work you may require, is to provide an industrial perspective to the review, as we are, effectively, the customers of research into STEM subjects. Please bear that in mind today and in future.

Professor Woods:
The most alarming issue for those of us who are involved in electrical and electronic engineering, which is one half of the department that I work in, is the falling numbers of students that are taking our courses. In 2000, we had an all-time peak of 120 students studying electrical and electronic engineering and electronic and software engineering. As of last year, the number of students on those courses was 36. We are not going to feel the effects of that for the next four or five years, but there has been a constant fall in numbers.

The discussion in our policy board has been driven by our concerns about the ability levels of the students coming in. In addition, some students were picking physics as well as mathematics. In electrical and electronic engineering, unlike the other engineering disciplines, we require physics qualifications, because our courses involve the study of microchips and related topics. The statistics that we have examined reveal that there has been an increase in the number of students taking mathematics, which we welcome, but our analysis also showed us that the numbers of students pursuing physics is falling.

As part of that analysis, we have also taken students in at stage 1, which is the main entry level into an engineering degree programme. We expect those students to have attained two Bs and a C at A level, including a B in maths and a B in physics or technology. We can take students who have not achieved those grades in at stage 0. Our analysis of a mathematics test that we set those students over the past five years — comprising basic addition, subtraction and fractions — showed quite a high failure rate. That has led us to provide remedial courses in those subjects. I am also aware of colleagues in Sheffield University who have a mathematics entry test, and who have also witnessed an increasing failure rate over a number of years. We are concerned about the level of mathematics teaching, but also the fall in the number of students taking physics. The decline in interest in that subject may begin as far back as primary school.

I am an external examiner for Imperial College, London and Newcastle University. The situation is similar throughout the UK, and, as I discovered at an international conference that I attended last week, it is also a global problem. If we are going to build the economy here, it must be based on ICT and engineering, and we must address that. That is why I wanted to get involved.

Mr Hatton:
Much of the work done by the sector skills council has been about identifying the education and skills needs of employers, and putting employers at the heart of things. The Northern Ireland economy, in our sector — engineering and manufacturing — has been growing considerably. That is clearly identified in some of the work that we have done, in some of the work that Semta has done through its sector skills agreements, and through the recent skills balance sheet, which is the most up-to-date piece of information that we have in our sector; it was completed and launched in June.

If we examine some of the issues in general, and the implications of STEM for those issues, the research clearly indicates that income growth, in many cases, is largely down to technological change. None of the sectors have avoided technological change; all sectors have had to embrace it, and our sector has had to embrace it more than most. At a recent meeting, I asked some consultants who had done some work on the subject what the two key issues were for our sector. The first was embracing technology, and the second was to ensure that the people who worked in the sector had the education and skills to develop that technology. Companies with qualified scientists and engineers in senior positions tend to invest in projects that have longer-term benefits for their region or area. That is critical for Northern Ireland.

The other side of the coin, bearing in mind that the Assembly is up and running and that we have experienced the feel-good factor, is the opportunity to attract foreign direct investment. That opportunity is strongly enhanced by having a society educated in STEM subjects, and those areas are critical.

The economy in Northern Ireland is roughly £25 billion, and we have a workforce of about a million people. STEM has an impact across so many sectors, not just engineering and manufacturing, but financial services, business services, ICT, life sciences and many more. One of the issues that we have to wrestle with is that we have a small-firm economy made up of lots of small companies and only a handful of larger companies. However, when those larger companies are in a growth position, that has a major impact on the smaller companies. If we look at Bombardier, for example, it is putting a lot of work out to small companies and subcontractors. It is doing a lot of work internally to try to meet the increasing need for skills and technology, and that is absolutely tremendous.

Increasingly, Northern Ireland businesses are high-tech startups, which is an important issue. Our universities are particularly helpful in directing us and developing in that area. Much inward investment has been made in those high-tech sectors — Microsoft, HCL Technologies, Schrader Electronics. There are lots of indigenous high-tech companies, including Andor Technology and Sensor Technology and Devices Ltd, and that is the main growth area. We have to rely very heavily on Northern Ireland’s colleges and universities to develop those needs.

Some key considerations have come out of the skills balance sheet, which we launched recently, and employers have a major role to play in this as their future business will rely on the good reputation and proven capabilities of their workforce. There is a need to increase investment in the skills of the existing workforce. The current skills level needs to increase if we are going to make the technological advances necessary to move forward.

Global competition will increasingly require the workforce to have higher-level skills. People coming into the workforce from schools need to have a higher level of qualifications, more orientated towards STEM subjects and our particular sectors. The age of the workforce is of some concern, because it will present significant replacement challenges for us. Those new people coming into our sector will be needed to fill retirement vacancies and to fill vacancies created as a result of upskilling. There was a survey of the engineering sector in Northern Ireland covering employers with more than 14,000 staff — managers, professional engineers, technicians and skilled trades. There is a major piece of work that needs to be done there.

Additionally, there is an annual requirement in the sector for around 1,350 new recruits across all occupational areas, just to replace the people who are going to retire over the next six years.

An interesting statistic is that from March 2006 to March 2007, 2,500 people were recruited into the engineering industry alone — not just manufacturers, but the whole engineering industry in Northern Ireland. There were an estimated 535 hard-to-fill vacancies in that sector, mainly in the skill, craft, technical, graduate and professional areas. It is estimated that those hard-to-fill vacancies have cost the Northern Ireland economy £21 million in gross value added; that is the potential that we have for continued growth if we had the people with the right skills and education

Those are just some figures to indicate the importance of this sector and the importance of STEM. The issue is, on the one hand, about new entrants coming into the sector — whether as young apprentices or in a graduate professional capacity — and, on the other hand, about upskilling the existing workforce and moving our current workers up through the levels.

If there are difficulties in providing the skills that are required by industries and employers in Northern Ireland, what effect does that have on potential inward investment? That must be taken into consideration. At one stage, the main concern relevant to inward investment was how much money was available to companies in order to attract them to Northern Ireland. Now the important issue is not so much about money, but about the availability of technical and professional people to undertake the work that might be required by any foreign companies that might provide investment, and the existence of a technical and professional training system that will continue to deliver the numbers of skilled people that are needed for the sector.

Mr Lusty:
I have hosted many visits from potential investors over the last 10 years, and the first question I am now asked by those visitors concerns the level of access to skills. Foreign companies are sold on the idea that Northern Ireland is a good place to do business, but the question is whether the skills are available. I have taken the party line and said that yes, the skills are available, but in fact there is quite a gap between available skills and the total volume of skills that is needed.

I have been building businesses in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, China and India for many years, and one of the lessons that I have learned from those countries that could be applied here is the need for a much more joined-up strategy. Strategies are formulated for the actions that are needed in the ICT sector, the financial-services sector and the small-business sector, but there needs to be a much more joined-up approach between education and learning, the training industry, and Invest Northern Ireland to make sure that there is a long-term strategy that feeds the skills sector from the bottom to the top. That, in my opinion, is what has made Sweden successful, has made the Czech Republic and Poland very successful in their own right, and has made China and India — although they have a different set of problems — successful in their own particular segments. If we can link together the great intentions, the Government pushes, and the multiple dimensions of the issue, that will provide a much better way forward.

Professor Woods:
Queen’s has normally sought to obtain placements for students, and that is something that has, invariably, been difficult. However, in the past year there have been twice the amount of placements available than there have been students willing to take them. One reason for that is that the number of students is falling, but another cause is the fact that the companies now see the need for those placements.

One thing that was successful in achieving that was the Dainton scholarships, whereby a company would, through education funding, sponsor a student through a degree course. That was useful in that it allowed the universities and other engineering institutions to attend locally organised meetings in schools — for example, a meeting in Ballymena Academy might involve all of the other local schools — and at those meetings the issues could be addressed. That is a positive change, and is better than continual negative messages.

From a university perspective, there has also been a major change in the employers that eventually employ our graduates — I cannot emphasise that enough. Ten or 15 years ago, the major employers of our graduates were Northern Ireland Electricity, Nortel, Bombardier and British Telecom. That profile has changed, with the amount of new companies starting up. Those small companies now constitute the new market into which we are delivering those skills. That has been a major change.

Mr Lusty:
We have given the Committee a flavour of how industry views the problem. The things that we have brought up today are some matters of concern. We, as a group and as representatives of most of the industry, are committed to working with the Committee and others to help and be part of a solution. We will certainly take any questions today, and if there is anything that we can help the Committee with in the future, please contact us.

The Chairperson:
Thank you very much; that was quite a useful presentation. Mr Hatton has become quite a regular visitor to our Committee meetings. In fairness, a lot of what we hear in presentations to the Committee is useful for me, and for other Committee members. It gives a flavour of what is going on, and makes a change from hearing a standard presentation from Departments.

What strikes me is that we have a Committee, an Assembly, an Executive, and a Minister. You referred to the fall in student numbers and the impact of that. Can you outline any positive steps that the Committee can take, so that we can propose action to the Executive or to the Department to alleviate some of those difficulties?

The skills balance sheet that Mr Hatton mentioned might be useful. Can you give us a copy of that?

Mr Hatton:
Some time ago, I sent copies for distribution to members. I had not realised that the Committee’s membership had changed. I can do that again.

The Chairperson:
It might be useful if we could have suggestions as to how the Committee can help, with its resources in the Assembly.

Mr Lusty:
Would you prefer us to give a one-minute answer now, or a written answer subsequently?

The Chairperson:
That is up to you.

Professor Woods:
The good news is that the attendance at open days at Queen’s University is much increased. I cannot speak for the University of Ulster, but we have corresponded with colleagues there, and they would very much agree. Perhaps that is due to our announcement of scholarships whereby students in STEM subjects who obtain three As or four As will have a grant of £1,000. That may have helped. For whatever reason, interest had increased.

Queen’s has been very proactive. We have sent academics into schools for careers evenings in a much more dynamic fashion than previously. Universities have a responsibility to get students interested in engineering. Within the schools structure, there are efforts being made to generate interest in the sciences. To me, that should be our long-term aspiration. I am unsure as to the detail of how we should pull that together.

I worry that, if the number we enrol now is, say, 36, in three or four years the number graduating will be 36. Currently, we have 80 or 90 students graduating. We need to address that long-term issue. The Dainton scholarships seem to be a move in the right direction, though how significant they are I do not know. They have built up better relationships with companies, and meant that students can come through on placement and gain a better understanding of engineering. When Mr Lusty was based in Nortel, that company was closely involved in schools. Company involvement in schools builds exciting aspirations. In a university, it is hard to project such aspirations in engineering: it is easier for a company that is building a product to do that.

Mr Lusty:
In the same way, if one considers employment and learning downstream, the Department of Education acts as a feeder organisation for universities. I may be quoting outside policy here; but if you read between the lines, it looks as though mathematics may become optional at GCSE. That would be a major step backwards.

Similarly, the quality of mathematics is also a concern to all parties. We have heard the term “dumbing down” used. To give an example, what is now studied in the second year at university was part of the core O level subjects, long ago when I sat my O levels. The number one objective must be to build a numerate population. The ability to analyse in detail is central to accountancy, engineering and financial services. It is a big feeder.

Mr Hatton:
I do not want to suggest that nothing is happening. STEM has had a high profile over the past year or so. There has been considerable work and activity on that. It is easy to see that — when you talk about STEM, people know that it means science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Much remains to be done. It is critical to companies in Northern Ireland and to the Northern Ireland economy. Employers also have a major role to play. In particular, some larger employers must get involved with schools. More employers must engage with schools in order to deal with those issues. I know that some projects are under way.

A report in England questioned why so many people were studying psychology and sports science to GCSE and A level when they would be better taking up manufacturing and bioscience jobs that add value, improve productivity and help the economy. The ending of compulsory science, if it happens — and I am led to believe that it will — will have a detrimental effect on Northern Ireland schools. There must be a framework as well as a strategy around STEM. Structure always follows strategy. There must be a structure to develop policies and initiatives that take STEM forward.

To that end, it has been suggested that a person should be appointed with specific responsibility for STEM in Northern Ireland to co-ordinate and collaborate partnerships, organisations and all STEM activities. We must avoid having 20 separate organisations doing similar things. Co-ordination means better value for money.

Mr Lusty:
Effectively, a chief science officer.

Mr Hatton:

Mr Lusty:
The final thing that I want to see is an infrastructure based on an industrial strategy followed by an education strategy, an implementation plan and a training and development plan. Invest NI, this Committee and the Departments of Education and Enterprise, Trade and Investment have opportunities to build better and tighter links can be built into a long- to medium-term plan that creates a drive and provides a platform upon which universities and higher education institutions can build. That represents the biggest opportunity available to us. We are here to help the Committee as much as possible in order to get there. We are an industry that needs to help itself and to help you in any way possible.

Professor Woods:
There is also a technology strategy board that appoints lecturers to fulfil that role, and the initial teacher training forum, which pushes the same issues. Therefore, there is a lot of effort in that area. The aim is to co-ordinate it.

The Chairperson:
If you were to find it useful to submit something in writing to the Committee for its records, please do so. For your information, today’s proceedings are being recorded and we will share that record with the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and the Education Committee. We are being proactive.

Mr Newton:
I have several short questions.

You mentioned grants and academic elements; can you expand on how students opt in to STEM subjects? Also, your publication, ‘Studying STEM’, refers to the transition from primary to secondary school; is that secondary-level school, or secondary schools as we understand them?

Mr Hatton:
It is post-primary schools.

Mr Newton:
Is there a pathway, therefore, from secondary-level schools into STEM subjects? Is that achievable?

You also talked about the impediments to the economy; has someone quantified the economic impact that will accrue from a failure to address STEM subjects?

You mentioned cross-sectoral needs — Invest NI, the Department of Education, the Department for Employment and Learning, and so on. Are there foundation degrees that enable students to enter university courses?

In ‘Studying STEM’ you discuss switch-off factors, and you mention that students and teachers are switching off. The Committee is concerned about the lack of continuing professional development (CPD) in the teaching profession. You have emphasised the need for inspirational teaching — does the lack of CPD have an impact? Has that been considered?

Professor Woods:
I visited my child’s primary school last night, and I learnt that, on the revised curriculum, science, geography and history are grouped together under one heading. There is a danger that, for example, a teacher who is interested in history will teach the subject from that perspective. However, if the curriculum is divided into separate sections, teachers will be obliged to deliver on the separate elements. Teachers have specific personal interests in different domains, and, in a teaching environment, they are likely to bring those influences to the fore. If the area is divided into separate subjects, delivery can be easily measured. However, if the concept is vague, there is a danger that the specific elements will be missed.

Mr Lusty:
The organiser of technology training at St Mary’s University College, who is a member of our committee, makes similar points. That college is impeded by budget and infrastructure difficulties for technology-related subjects. Technology is always the first subject to get squeezed in schools. Given that, it is more difficult to do those subjects. Some schools still focus on traditional pure physics and mathematics as academic subjects; we feel that that needs to cover a wider base.

Professor Woods:
An initiative was launched a week and a half ago in the technology park to encourage school participation in robotics. That is trying to encourage building with Lego in schools. We must make an effort to equip teachers with those materials; we do not want to be seen to be criticising that. A couple of initiatives are examining how that should target particular age levels. It can be difficult to assess unless one encounters it in practical terms.

Does that answer the question? I do not know the exact CPD involved from a teaching perspective — our colleague from the engineering policy group could answer that question better.

Mr Newton:
Not all young people attend grammar schools, and some secondary schools in Northern Ireland produce bright pupils. Do we miss the secondary schools going into STEM subjects, or is there a pathway through secondary schools into foundation degrees?

Mr Hatton:
Although it is an important route, progression from GSCE to A level and, subsequently, to university is not the only route into STEM. However, there is another important route. Young people can leave school at 16 with reasonable qualifications, enter employment and undertake apprenticeship-type programmes.

The bioscience sector in Northern Ireland struggles because it cannot attract lab technicians. That has a major impact on that sector, and young people have the opportunity, through employed-status apprenticeship programmes, to gain experience and a technical certificate such as City & Guilds, or, in most cases, Edexcel Higher National Certificates or indeed the course that you mentioned. Some foundation degrees have been developed, and others are in development. They can take young people who leave school at 16 through employment, and, when they reach 23 or 24, to a specific STEM-type degree.

Mr Newton:
I accept that. However, the route that you outline is likely to be prolonged, as opposed to delivering qualifications from an educational base within a reasonable timescale.

Professor Woods:
We have a relationship with Belfast Metropolitan College. We have taken people in directly from there, and the number of routes that we offer has increased. To be honest, historically there is not a lot coming through from that route. I am not sure where the faults lie and where we could improve that, but there are routes available in both Queen’s University and the University of Ulster.

Mr Hatton:
One of the programmes run for university and, particularly, college lecturers is called Lecturers into Industry. As part of that programme, a lecturer works with an employer for a substantial period of time and is updated about working practices, technology and what the curriculum requires. That programme could be introduced for schoolteachers. I am not talking about a day out — teachers would spend several weeks with companies, which is why companies have a major role to play.

Mr Newton:
Is there a quantified piece of work on the impediments to the economy?

Mr Lusty:
There is no such piece of work in the public domain. I have suggested to Invest Northern Ireland that it should be the driver behind the creation of a piece of work that explains the industrial strategy and its component parts. I am sure that work has been done to provide some understanding of the issue, but there should be a piece of work in the public domain with interest from organisations like ours to help it advance.

Foundation degrees are another very useful building block in the economy. Employers regard those who start foundation degrees at 16 and work their way through as valuable to the economy. A better way to feed those people into the academic subjects is required, but they are a very important part of our economy and should not be forgotten.

The Chairperson:
The meeting today is not the end of the relationship between your organisation and the Committee. In my constituency some years ago, the partnership board brought a lot of the companies and education providers together — the companies were able to say what they required, and the providers were able to tweak their curriculum accordingly. I will speak to the Committee staff to see if we can work with your organisation to host an event, possibly in conjunction with the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, so that we can be proactive. We will contact you about that.

Professor Woods:
Invest NI has an activity in that area, but it does not have university involvement; it just involves consultant companies.

The Chairperson:
We will tease out some of those issues and see if we can utilise our resources.

Mr Lusty:
We will be delighted to support that. There are only three of us today, but there are at least a dozen core members who we can bring in from other perspectives to support your event.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:
I am a former governor of a grammar school. Is there still a mindset among teachers and governors to direct students to the professions rather than the industries? At an industry breakfast this morning, the emphasis was on losing young people at primary-school level — what is being done to address that and the attitudes of teachers and governors?

Mr Lusty:
When I left grammar school in 1978, I went to the careers office and was asked if I wanted to do law or medicine. I choose engineering and was told “Off you go, and good luck”. It was only many years later, at my twenty-fifth anniversary reunion, that the teachers recognised engineering as a career choice.

This is not for the minutes, but Basil McCrea and I were at school together and faced the same challenges when we left school to go into industrial careers.

The Chairperson:
You have aged better than Basil.

Mr Lusty:
Basil was one of the popular, cute boys among the girls at school. [Laughter.]

The same headmaster is still at the school, and we have moved halfway towards diversity in professions.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:
Are you doing any work in the teacher-training colleges on that issue?

Mr Hatton:
We are involved with teacher training and — [Inaudible due to mobile phone interference.]

It is not solely the responsibility of the careers teacher; everyone should have an understanding of careers, just as everyone who has a leadership role should have some understanding of people, for instance.

I agree with Dr Coulter that some schools in Northern Ireland think about law, medicine and accountancy only — no disrespect to those disciplines. They think that children who have an interest in anything else are not achievers. Perhaps that is a cultural trend in Northern Ireland; I am not sure about the rest of the United Kingdom.

There is a different attitude in countries such as Germany and Japan, where engineers are held in the same esteem as barristers or financial experts. It is a cultural trend in Northern Ireland. However, I think that change is happening, because of the massive increases in technology that have taken place over the past 10 years. Cultural changes do not happen overnight; they take time. It is imperative that employers engage with schools and bring the young people, careers teachers and technology teachers out of the schools and into the industry to see the techniques, for instance, that are used to develop productivity. That is happening, but such engagement must be increased.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter:
Many students who leave primary school are deficient in reading, writing and maths skills.

Mr Hatton:
Employers are clear about that. If a young person who started school at the age of four or five years and left at 16 is unable to communicate properly, and is not numerate or literate, has the school or the young person failed? It should not be left to the employer to deal with that. A lot of people in Northern Ireland have to go through the essential skills. Many people are benefiting from that, because they are being taught maths and English in a contextualised manner. The subjects are incorporated into things in which the individuals have an interest. Therefore they understand it, they get a grasp of the subject, and they learn and develop.

Some of the people that Dr Coulter mentioned — those who struggled and did not do well at school — have gone on and done well, not only in industry, but in college and university.

Professor Woods:
It is a national issue. Many of us have been asked to fix a broken television or washing machine. People think of engineers at that level. It is a view suffered by engineers nationally; not much can be done locally. We, and other professional institutes, have pushed towards eradicating that concept. Our highest graduate starting salary this year was £38,000. We must send out the message that engineering is not a cheap job anymore; five or six graduates started work with a salary of £30,000. Parents will be more supportive and realise that engineering is a proper job when we make that message known.

The Chairperson:
Hansard has informed me that mobile phone interference is causing problems with the recording equipment. Please switch off all phones — do not leave them on silent mode.

Ms Lo:
Your report on the barriers makes interesting reading. There is a mindset in Northern Ireland that engineering or STEM subjects are difficult. ‘Studying STEM’ contained mention of ethnic representation in STEM subjects. In many ways, it is the other way round to the wider community. I worked in the Chinese community for 20 years, and I saw many clever second-generation men and women doing STEM subjects. They studied science subjects because they feared that English or literature — or other subjects — would be too difficult for them. A lot of them chose to do maths, but — due to their parents’ influence — ended up doing business.

Changing the mindsets of children and parents is important. Your report mentions the media’s role in changing the image of engineering as being a dirty job that is low paid and is a man’s job. The media is so important in influencing minds, but I dispute the omission of the industry from the list of influencers on page 12 of the report. The influence of teachers and the media is mentioned, but the industry also has an important role to play.

The industry and the universities need to go to schools — face-to-face interaction — in order to enthuse children about STEM subjects. As you rightly said, that should be done before students get to GCSE level; it should be done in primary schools and at the start of secondary level when children begin to develop an interest in those subjects, so as to encourage them to take the subjects at GCSE level. Industrialists and university lecturers need to go to schools to get students interested in those subjects.

It is crazy to hear of thousands of young people applying for teacher-training courses every year, given that there are no jobs at the end of those courses. Young people continue to train as teachers because they think that teaching is a good career, and that outlook must be changed.

Mr Lusty:
You mentioned ethnic representation. ‘Studying STEM’ largely covers mainland UK. Northern Ireland has a slightly different population make-up. Afro-Caribbean people, especially, and some from the Indian subcontinent, have been drifting away from STEM subjects. I take your point that, if it were not for the ethnic Chinese community, a large number of engineering firms around the world would fall apart. Engineering firms in North America, in particular, are driven by the Chinese community.

You made a good point about developing STEM subjects. We are here today to represent industry. However, a STEM subject will provide a baseline for many subjects, including accountancy and business. The analytical skills that engineers need are equally needed by business development people in a wider sense, including people who work in accountancy. Engineering is a great skill for life.

Professor Woods mentioned the Dainton scholarship. All of the companies that we have worked for and all of the industries that we work for spend a lot of time going to schools, but perhaps not enough. The Dainton scholarship provides a touchstone and a target. We can educate people and talk to them about how fun it is to be an engineer, and we can explain the careers that are available to them, but the Dainton scholarship offers them something which they can grab.

We offer around 20 Dainton scholarships a year, but the career options are presented to around 2,000 people. Many more people than the 20 who win the scholarships will enter a related profession. We need a funnel from primary school to sixth form for talking to people about how they can address that matter.

Professor Woods:
In order to educate careers teachers, we also provide opportunities for careers teachers to come to the university — with, of course, a free lunch — and spend the day there. We have considered measures to increase certain aspects of that.

Ms Lo:
I agree that a co-ordinated strategy is needed, perhaps in the form of a dedicated position in the Department for Employment and Learning or the Department of Education to promote STEM subjects. That is important.

The Chairperson:
On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your presentation; it was quite useful. We will be in touch with some ideas and suggestions, and I would appreciate it if you put something on paper for the Committee.

Mr Lusty:
We will put the key points in summary form and if you want to go into those in further depth, we are happy to provide the information.

The Chairperson:
Feel free to contact us about any other issues.

Mr Lusty:
Thank you very much.