Head of Policy, UCAS
Nearly half of young students going to university or college each year study a STEM subject. Encouragingly, within that group of 18 year olds in the UK, there is a slight over-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
However, applying UCAS’ multiple equalities measure (MEM), which combines the effect of many measures of disadvantage into one, shows there is an incredibly varied picture for different STEM courses. On medicine and dentistry courses, the most disadvantaged students are outnumbered by their most advantaged peers by 25 to one.
How they get to that point though is quite surprising. A higher proportion of the most advantaged students have STEM qualifications at level 2 (GCSE and equivalent) and level 3 (A level and equivalent). However, the most disadvantaged who have studied STEM at younger age are more likely to use those qualifications to progress onto a STEM degree.
A fifth of students inadvertently close the door to a desired pathway without knowing it. It’s vital we avoid this, making STEM pathways clearly visible.
Keeping career opportunities open
It is abundantly clear that early engagement is vital, and successful, in promoting STEM to all students. Our recent report, “Where Next? What influences the choices school leavers make?”, showed that advantaged students are 1.4 times more likely to consider higher education in primary school than their disadvantaged classmates. Medicine, nursing and computer science are popular among those thinking about their options early. A fifth of students inadvertently close the door to a desired pathway without knowing it. It’s vital we avoid this, making STEM pathways clearly visible.
The value of apprenticeships
Routes into STEM come in many forms, with apprenticeships playing a key role. Over half of students currently applying for a degree are interested in apprenticeships. STEM is at the heart of this – engineering (66%), computer sciences (65%) and architecture, building and planning (65%) have lots of interest. But we also know students struggle to find apprenticeships information and understand their value. A third don’t receive advice in school and only 4% consider an apprenticeship prestigious, compared to 76% for a traditional degree.
These pathways can offer the same goal, so we need to share their benefits better. UCAS is helping students navigate their pathways, with a 71% annual increase in those pursuing apprenticeships through our Career Finder tool. By putting different options in the same location, side by side, alongside new innovative tools such as our Careers Quiz, students can make fully informed choices based on learning style, environment and ambition. This can only benefit STEM, opening the door to more students and making the paths clearer.