Dr Anne Nortcliffe reflects on the recent UCAS release. Drawing on data from across Kent and Medway, she considers how schools, colleges and universities may contribute to limiting school leaver choice.
A UCAS report (2020 entry UCAS undergraduate report – where next?) issued today highlights how the information and advice students receive in school has an important impact of their subject choice, qualifications, and future careers.
This is not new news to me. As an engineering education researcher, for the last three years I have been researching, reporting and publishing at EERN UK&IE and Advance HE conferences on the impact of accessibility of level 3 STEM education and the consequential impact this has upon the pipeline to engineering and medicine.
“1 in 5 students unintentionally block themselves from degree choices”(UCAS, 2021)
Low social economic students not only receive poor career advice, but also experience regional educational challenges in accessing STEM Level 3 education. Schools will only run science A levels if they have a cohort of more than five students, and if they also have the staff and capacity to provide STEM A levels. Consequently, this has led to regional disparity of access to science A levels.
Here in Kent, the hotspot for accessing Physics A level education is Maidstone, and Chemistry is Canterbury. In South Yorkshire, in the affluent city of Sheffield students can access all STEM A levels, whereas in East South Yorkshire (Rotherham and Doncaster) students have to travel a distance.
Another barrier is that because of a lack of previous provision, the numbers of school and college students who consider Engineering to be a viable option for study at university is traditionally low. This means that there is a real need for purposeful and targeted outreach and marketing of the subject to attract new students.
Our offer of studying a BEng with Foundation Year provides creative and talented students, who may not have the usual entry requirements, with a route to an engineering degree. Helping students to build engineering skills and knowledge while preparing them for their particular engineering degree.
It is more than student choice of Level 3 education that is impacting the pipeline for engineering and medicine – the whole education provision setup in low social economic areas needs addressing.
Dr Anne Nortcliffe is the Founding Head of School of Engineering, Technology and Design.
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