Bola Fatimilehin describes UK action
The December 2011 issue of People & Science (p24) described the Girls Learning Electrical Engineering programme at the University of Illinois. In the UK, the Royal Academy of Engineering has also done much work in this area and the journey is by no means over.
Case for action
In the UK, people training as engineers and working in the profession do not reflect the population as a whole. In 2010, only 13.9 per cent of those with a first degree in engineering were female (Engineering UK (2012), The State of Engineering ), with just 6.9 per cent working in the engineering profession (UKRC Statistics Guide (2010) ). Only 4.2% of chartered UK engineers are female (Engineering Council: 2010 Registration Statistics ). Socioeconomic representation is skewed towards to top three (out of seven) categories. People identifying as Chinese and Indian are overrepresented; those from Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds in particular, are under-represented. There is a presumption that people with disabilities are also under-represented, although the evidence on this is yet to be gathered and analysed.
Many sectors report difficulty in recruiting individuals with STEM skills and knowledge (Engineering UK (2012), The State of Engineering ).
The Academy led the London Engineering Project that aimed to increase cultural and gender diversity in engineering education. This included effective use of role models, student ambassadors and e-mentors.
We are now building on this programme with funding from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. Our key stakeholders include the professional engineering institutions, the Royal Society, engineering and diversity third sector organisations and the education sector. We encourage an evidence-based approach with a culture of data gathering, evaluation, sharing best practice and by engaging with organisations that work with the underrepresented groups we seek to attract.
We are keen to hear from anyone across engineering - or other sectors - with best practice case studies, feedback and ideas on increasing the representation of women, people from low income backgrounds, ethnic minority and disabled people in engineering.
Just choose the weapon, declares Beck Smith
Lord Willis (People & Science, December 2011, p28) said ‘the science community must take up the challenge and give [Willetts and Cable] yet more ammunition’ to present a pro-funding case to the government. Before the last spending review, CaSE and others assembled evidence clearly demonstrating the need for investment in science and engineering in rebalancing the economy.
The UK produces more research publications and citations per pound spent on research than any other G8 nation.1 It’s not just in research that the UK performs well. At the commercialisation end, the Technology Strategy Board generates a return of nearly £7 for every £1 invested. The sector creates jobs too. Engineering UK estimates that by 2017, the UK will need over half a million new workers in manufacturing alone.2
We have the ammunition. But is more of the same going to give us the same result? Although the flat cash settlement of the last Comprehensive Spending Review was better than some had expected, coupled with the cuts to capital, the UK science and engineering community is left treading water. Meanwhile, China and Germany surge ahead.3,4
Move the emphasis
Is it time for a shift in how we demonstrate the benefits of investment in science and engineering – moving away from stating facts towards spelling out the political and economic necessity?
In 2012, CaSE will be campaigning for the windfall from the auction of the 4G radio spectrum to be reinvested in science and engineering. That this windfall stems from research and innovation in a number of different fields, across different countries, is proof in itself that investment in science and engineering pays off. The question is, will the government listen?
1 The Royal Society (March 2010), The Scientific Century: Securing our future prosperity. RS Policy document 02/10
2 Engineering UK (2011), The state of engineering
3 Institute for Fiscal Studies (June 2011), Innovation in China: The Rise of Chinese Inventors in the Production of Knowledge. IFS Working Paper W11/15
4 Royal Society of Chemistry (19 July 2011 ), ‘German science receives a 10 per cent funding boost’