Precarity exacerbating UK science skills gap, peers warn

House of Lords Science and Technology Committee also criticises ‘unjustifiably high’ visa costs 

十二月 16, 2022
Source: iStock

A House of Lords committee has warned that the precarity of academic careers is exacerbating the UK’s growing skills gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Peers also urged the government to extend the post-study work visa, as well as introducing a remote working visa to help address shortages.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee wrote to George Freeman, the science minister, to urge the government to act on its ambition of becoming a “science superpower”.

It says that the UK’s skills gap is long-running and there is a mismatch between the scale of the problem and the “inadequate and piecemeal” solutions – including the postgraduate “new deal” for researchers – currently on offer.

The committee examines the precarity and attractiveness of STEM academic careers in its report, saying that the majority of PhD students, and many postdoctoral researchers, will not end up in permanent academic positions.

With alternative paths hard to navigate, it says careers advice needs to be improved for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, and initiatives that allow time in industry should be expanded.

The committee says a lack of standardisation and the fixed-term nature of most contracts contribute to the precariousness of careers, and that continuing to employ people on a succession of short-term contracts is “not acceptable”.

The report also says that visa costs for skilled workers and scientists are “unjustifiably high” compared with the UK’s competitors.

It calls for reforms such as allowing upfront costs to be paid over time, extending the post-study work visa, and introducing a remote working visa.

There was praise for the lifelong learning entitlement loan, but concerns that in hard economic times working people may not feel able to take on a loan without further support.

It should therefore be geared towards shorter, modular and part-time courses, the committee adds.

Baroness Brown of Cambridge, chair of committee, said: “Without a sufficiently skilled STEM workforce we are hindering the potential to unlock productivity and economic growth or achieve ambitions for net zero, energy security or becoming a ‘science and technology superpower’.

“Welcoming and valuing overseas STEM talent will be key to ensuring the UK achieves its science superpower ambitions – we must be competitive as a destination for top talent.”



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