Seven universities work together to interest young people in science and mathematics

University of Birmingham

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The University of Birmingham will act as the 'hub'

The Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester Metropolitan, Southampton and Swansea will develop activities to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their regions as part of the national Higher Education STEM programme. Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to the tune of £21m and launched in August 2009, the three-year initiative aims to generate interest in STEM subjects among young people, enhance higher level skills in the workplace and increase accessibility of HE courses in these subjects. The programme will build on the successes of four HEFCE-funded two-year pilot projects, which includes the Chemistry for our future (CFOF) project managed by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).  

Speaking at the HE Heads of Chemistry meeting in November, Michael Grove, the programme director based at the University of Birmingham, explained the 'hub and spoke' structure of the programme with the six regional 'spoke' universities working in collaboration with other HEIs in their region. The University of Birmingham will act as the 'hub', coordinating activities and disseminating good practice across the regions. Grove emphasised that the programme will focus on sustainable activities with the potential to achieve long-term impact in three related strands:  

  • activities to widen participation within and across the STEM disciplines at HE level by working with schools;  
  • HE curriculum developments, focusing on course delivery and design, student support, and knowledge and skills; 
  • and activities to encourage those currently within the workforce and society without a level 4 qualification to engage in further study to develop knowledge and skills. 

Working with the RSC over the next three years, the programme will continue and roll out across the regions CFOF activities such as Spectroscopy in a suitcase, the teacher fellowship scheme, and the output of projects to develop context- and problem-based learning materials and approaches for undergraduate chemistry courses.  

The partner universities will also be the focus for regional activities to engage local employers in HE learning. To help identify the skills that employers want from STEM graduates, the programme is setting up a 'Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning Taskforce', which will involve employers, HEIs, regional development agencies, sector skills councils etc. According to Grove, 'the aspiration is to involve employers more in the development of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum'. For chemistry the RSC's recent report on graduate skills would be a starting point for this group.