IT industry welcomes rise in STEM A-level entries

The number of students taking science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects at A-level has continued to increase, figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications has shown.

Today’s A-level results showed that entries for STEM subjects rose by 3.1 percent on last year, and 29.2 percent since 2007. Entries for maths and physics, often required subjects for access to degree-level IT courses, rose 3.8 percent and five percent, respectively.

“The number of students choosing to study rigorous STEM subjects is good news as having people highly qualified in these subjects is vital to the future of our economy.

“It is important that this trend is maintained if the UK is to be competitive on the global stage,” said Carrie Hartnell, associate director at IT industry association Intellect.

However, sector skills council e-skills UK noted a decline in the number of students taking A-level computing.

“[The continuing decline] is disappointing given the rising demand for new entrants to the IT industry,” said Karen Price, CEO at e-skills UK.

“It is, however, encouraging that the proportion of girls studying computing at schools has not declined and that they continue to outperform their male counterparts.”

No room for complacency

Industry representatives believe that while the rise in STEM entries is positive, the young talent would need nurturing to counter the future skills gap in the sector.

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Stuart Silberg, VP of technology at Hotels.com, said: “It’s great news for the technology industry that A-level entries into STEM subjects continue to rise.

“[But] it’s imperative that schools educate their pupils on how to apply their talents to practical settings and promote the great career opportunities a good science and technology grounding can bring. A career in technology isn’t all about putting binary numbers into programming software – it requires creativity, teamwork and communication.”

In addition, industry needs to work with universities to help develop business-relevant courses, said Geoffrey Taylor, head of academic programme at SAS UK & Ireland.

“Although the rise in entries for maths A-levels is encouraging, we mustn’t get complacent,” he said. “Our graduates lack the analytical skills needed by businesses to navigate this so-called ‘big data’ and studying maths past GCSE is a prerequisite.

“It’s also crucial to drive students towards the university courses that will equip them well for the future. To this end, universities must work with industry to base syllabuses around the applications and software used in real-life scenarios.”

Furthermore, John Antunes, director of SME and channels at SAP UKI, believes that smaller firms also have a role to play in fostering the necessary future skills.

“I would encourage small businesses to take stock on their talent pool. Rather than feeling reluctant to take the risk of employing individuals who need training and investment to reach their potential, think about the benefits of shaping willing, young employees and how your business can be perceived as an attractive alternative to university or careers in larger enterprises,” he said.