Multi-million pound Govt investment in science and STEM learning

Posted on 10 Mar 2020 by Jonny Williamson

The Government is spending £179m on giving 11,000 students access to 41 Doctoral Training Partnerships with emphasis on science, with a further £9m pledged to promoting STEM learning.

Marking British Science Week (6-15 March), the £179m funding announced is for PhD learning via Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs).

It will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). EPSRC supports about 11,000 doctoral students through DTPs, Centres for Doctoral Training and Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology (CASE) studentships.

The DTPs will operate at over 40 UK universities, in physical sciences, maths and engineering to develop the skills for ground-breaking research and high-tech industries like cyber security and chemical manufacturing. Part of the investment will go into pilots looking at how best to attract and support those from non-academic backgrounds to undertake this type of training.

The four pilot projects include:

  • Defending the UK through novel cybersecurity and defence systems research: The University of Southampton will develop the skills of current and former defence and security staff, armed services personnel and police through new research focusing on cybersecurity and control systems for autonomous systems like drones.
  • Driving productivity for sustainable growth: Brunel University London will provide future engineers with the skills, knowledge and experience to drive forward research and innovation in sustainable technologies, supporting the UK to reach its net zero ambitions.
  • Expanding skills in data-science and engineering: Queen Mary University of London has partnered with IBM, BT and the BBC to expand the number of scientists and engineers with data-science and engineering skills, by providing students with access to world-class researchers and facilities, while allowing them to apply their new found skills in an industry setting.
  • Developing sustainable and efficient chemical manufacturing: The University of York will develop the skills of research scientists and employees working in the chemicals industry to help chemical businesses transform their current manufacturing practices, so they are more efficient and sustainable.

The government says previous investments in physical sciences, maths and engineering doctoral training have resulted in pioneering advances, including developing new methods to predict the location of road collision hot spots (University of Newcastle) or hydrogel-based wound dressing that helps them to heal and control infections (University of Bath with Public Health England).

Nurse selects sterile hydrogel dressing for use on a burn or wound Image: Shutterstock

Research into hydrogel dressings was funded in part by government. Image: Shutterstock

After completing PhDs, nearly 40% of engineering and physical sciences doctoral students go on to be employed in business or public services, with 39% of those working in academia and 22% using this knowledge and skill in training or working in other sectors.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma added, “Today’s funding will support the talented people we have in this country to study these vital subjects, develop technologies for the future and support the UK’s status as a science superpower.”

Boost for STEM

Almost £9m (£8.9m) is being spent to continue funding science education programmes including Science Learning Partnerships and Stimulating Physics Networks, which aim to improve science teaching and increase the take up of science at GCSE level and A Level, and ultimately encourage young people to pursue a STEM-related career, as well as encouraging more young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects at school and university, and pursue a STEM-related career.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Making sure that the next generation has the scientific skills to meet the world’s needs – from developing green technologies to curing illnesses – couldn’t be more important. That’s why we continue to invest in science programmes in our schools and ensure that anyone, regardless of their background, can participate.

“Girls now make up just over half of A Level entries for the three core science subjects but there is more we can do so we will fund research to better understand how we can improve girls’ physics A Level participation.”

The government says there has been a 31% in the number of STEM A Levels entries taken by women in England between 2010 and 2019.

Additionally, the government will continue to fund a number of programmes in science education for a further year, including:

  • the network of 41 Science Learning Partnerships, run by STEM Learning, which aims to improve the quality of science teaching and increase the take up of GCSE science. The Department for Education has provided £17.7m of funding from 2016 to 2020;
  • Project Enthuse, which provides bursaries for science teachers and technicians to attend high-quality professional development. The department and the Wellcome Trust have jointly funded this programme, with the Department for Education providing a total of £13.1m from 2013 to 2020;
  • the Isaac Physics programme, run by the University of Cambridge, which offers support and activities in physics problem solving to teachers and students studying GCSE and A Level physics. The Department for Education has provided £7.3m grant funding from 2013 to 2020;
  • the Stimulating Physics Networks, run by the Institute of Physics, to improve the take up of A Level physics, particularly by girls. The Department for Education has provided £8.6m of funding for the SPN from 2016 to 2020. This includes funding for the Institute of Physics to deliver the Improving Gender Balance research trial, which aims to encourage greater uptake of physics among girls.