Home & Office

UK education system failing tech industry

Business leaders are warning that urgent work needs to be done to correct a lack of science uptake in schools, which is leaving UK companies with no choice but to look abroad for skilled workers
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

The UK education system is failing to turn out the kind of school leavers that the technology industry requires to stay competitive with China, India and Eastern Europe, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has warned.

The business group claimed on Monday that a "stripped-down" approach to teaching science in the nation's schools has led to a massive slump in the number of graduates who leave university with a degree in physics, engineering or technology. Only around 32,000 graduates qualified in technical subjects last year, the CBI said.

"Employers are increasingly worried about the long-term decline in numbers studying A-Level physics, chemistry and maths, and the knock-on effect on these subjects and engineering at university," said CBI director general, Richard Lambert. "They see, at first hand, the young people who leave school and university looking for a job, and compare them to what they need — and increasingly are looking overseas for graduates."

The CBI wants the Government to take the issue of improving the number and calibre of science and technology teachers seriously by making the profession more attractive as a career option. The group did acknowledge that the UK has gone some way towards this with its training bursaries for science teachers and "golden helloes", but claims more needs to be done.

The issue of whether the education system is turning out enough qualified school leavers and graduates is one that has dogged the tech industry for years. The European Commission set up a taskforce in June this year to investigate how Europe's IT industry can become more competitive including how to boost the popularity of technical subjects and careers among young people.

Microsoft also waded into the debate recently when it released a report claiming that the UK is facing a major shortage of skilled software developers. The research, Developing the Future, claimed that UK applicants for degree courses in computer science, engineering, information systems and software engineering have declined to pre-1996 levels.

But while many in the technology industry claim that improving education is the only way for the UK to stay competitive, others argue that immigration is a faster and surer way of bringing in the skills needed.

Jim Goodnight, the outspoken chief executive officer of software giant SAS, said recently that the UK and US Governments must open their borders to skilled overseas IT workers in order to remain competitive and foster a culture of innovation.

In an interview with silicon.com (ZDNet UK's sister site), Goodnight said that the IT industry is crying out for changes to immigration laws and added that SAS has slowed its hiring in the US in favour of growing its teams in India and China where he believes there is a rich pool of talent.

"The industry is screaming for help in this area," said Goodnight. "In the US we are not producing enough skills in science and maths and yet we're not allowed to bring in more than 65,000 people each year who have those skills."

Silicon.com’s Will Sturgeon contributed to this report.

Editorial standards