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More A-Level students are taking STEM subjects, but experts warn it's not enough

Amit Katwala

(Credit: iStock)
(Credit: iStock)

The number of A-Level entries in science, technology, engineering and maths-related subjects rose in 2017.

However, experts say that won’t necessarily translate into more people going into careers in the industry.

New figures released alongside A-Level results today show that the number of students taking maths at A-Level, for example, rose by 3.3% despite fewer entries overall. There were also increases for Physics (3.5%), Chemistry (1%), and Computing (33%).

Overall, 41% of total A-Level entries were in STEM subjects, rising from 40% in 2016. There is a gender split, with 35% of entries from girls being in STEM subjects, compared to 46% for boys.

Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards, said the news “bodes well” for the economic prosperity of the country. “Increasing the number of girls studying STEM subjects has been an important objective of the Government, so it is particularly pleasing to see that more young women are taking STEM subjects and that for the first time since 2004 there are more young women than young men studying chemistry,” he added.

Peter Finegold, head of education and skills policy and research at IMechE, told Professional Engineering that the upward trend in STEM numbers was “gratifying” and “shows how young people increasingly understand the currency of these qualifications.”

He added that “translating this success and enthusiasm into engineering jobs will require a robust - and long-awaited - government career strategy that will help pupils, their parents and teachers to appreciate the breadth of opportunity on offer.”

According the Engineering UK, the country needs 1.8 million new engineers by 2025, but the rise in STEM A-Level students won’t necessarily translate into that. “A large volume of people do go on to study STEM-related subjects at university,” Lizzie Crowley, skills policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, told PE. “What seems to be the main problem is that actually they don't go into STEM occupations when they graduate.”

“The government strategy of increasing the number of people taking STEM at that pipeline level should be applauded - but the biggest problem lies in that transition between higher education and the workplace.”

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