Author Archives: Professor Alan Alexander OBE, Royal Society of Edinburgh
Lord Baker calls it ‘The Skills Mismatch’, Lord Adonis ‘The Fractured Economy’ and now The Prince’s Trust has coined ‘The Skills Crunch’, but whichever snappy name grabs your attention they all boil down to the same thing: Britain is struggling to align its education system with the skill needs of the economy. Read More
The new Science and Innovation Strategy, which will be published later this year, is an important deliverable for government, because it will set out how we ensure UK capabilities remain world-leading while at the same time contributing to economic growth and scientific excellence.
Science and innovation are key drivers of economic growth and jobs in the UK: for every £1 we spend on research, 50p is generated for the economy each year thereafter. Read More
The QEPrize is a global £1 million pound prize that rewards and celebrates the engineers responsible for an innovation that has been of global impact on humanity.
The inaugural prize was awarded to the five engineers who made seminal contributions to the creation and proliferation of the Internet and World Wide Web: Louis Pouzin, Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Tim Berners-Lee and Marc Andreessen. As nominations have now closed, we are working on inspiring young people, especially girls, to become engineers. Read More
However hard people try, it is clear nobody can predict exactly what will happen in the future. But we can be sure that in five, ten and twenty years time science and mathematics will be at the heart of everyone’s lives, and skills in “STEM” areas will probably be even more essential in order to get a job and to to participate fully in society as a citizen. Read More
The WiSET team within the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University have been addressing the barriers in science (and technology, engineering, maths and built environment) for under-represented groups, particularly women, over a number of years. Read More
Sharing scientific kit is not primarily about cutting costs but is giving universities and their business partners access to state-of-the-art research equipment.
Engineering drives UK economic growth and lies at the heart of our quality of life. From advances in prosthetics, to developing the next ‘big thing’ in electronics, engineers contribute £481 billion to the UK economy, working in every sector imaginable. Read More
Engineering cannot be taught successfully without an industrial and research context.
If UK higher education is to deliver the quality and quantity of engineering graduates the country needs (and the numbers were demonstrated again last week in Engineering UK’s 2014 report on the State of Engineering), the funding of science and engineering needs a long term cross-party commitment. Read More
All-Party Group on Science and Technology
The formation of the Northern Ireland Assembly All-Party Group on Science and Technology, in February 2012, heralded the start of a new and developing relationship between the science and engineering community in Northern Ireland, Members of the Assembly (MLAs), and the Executive.
The All-Party Group (APG) is chaired by Basil McCrea MLA and managed by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the world’s leading chemistry community. It meets three times a year with the principle objective of bringing together MLAs and others with an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Northern Ireland. Read More
At a time when scientific authority is both in high demand and hotly contested, the relationships between science advice, evidence, expertise and policy have been magnified by debates over what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals. Read More
Once again, this year’s A level and GCSE results show that girls are good at science. Of those that took STEM subjects, girls were more likely than boys to get a top grade. The challenge is to get more girls to choose science, maths and technology – especially when they make choices at 16, in order to increase the pipeline of female talent entering the STEM workforce. Read More
CaSE supports increasing diversity in science and engineering. Many of our members are taking pro-active steps to do this. In this guest post Hazel describes the initiatives taken by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) to address gender imbalance in pharmacology.
In 1935 Mary Pickford became the first woman elected to BPS membership – just four years after the Society was initially formed. Fast forward almost 80 years and the BPS membership currently includes 1,090 female members, representing around 35% of the total. This picture has improved very slowly since 2004 when there was 30% representation – partly because this was when BPS first chose to look into why women were under-represented amongst senior pharmacologists in UK industry, higher education and BPS membership.
Our research showed that while student members were more or less evenly split between the genders (52% female) there was a steady decline in female membership from graduation onwards (25% Full members, 15% Fellows and 8.5% Honorary Fellows). These numbers pointed to a steady ‘leakage’ of women from the pharmacology profession at the mid-career stage – hardly a surprise given that this ‘leakage’ is reflected across many STEM careers.
It is no coincidence that the leaky pipeline begins around the time when many women in pharmacology are considering starting a family. We contacted some of the female pharmacologists who had left the workplace and asked them why they had decided to leave science. Responses were mixed, but a common theme was the perceived inability to remain competitive in a profession where success is measured by papers published and grants won, with little or no consideration given to time away from work e.g. maternity leave/childcare.
It became clear to BPS that there was a specific need to provide additional support and guidance to our female members throughout their careers.
Addressing the imbalance
In 2005 BPS set up a mentoring scheme to support its female members in order to help them stay in pharmacology and to achieve their full potential. To date 95 mentoring partnerships have been established.
The success of the mentoring scheme led to the establishment of the Women in Pharmacology Committee in order to help promote careers for women in pharmacology and clinical pharmacology and to address the under-representation of women at senior level. Professor Amrita Ahluwalia (pictured at the top of the post on the left) became the first Chair of the Women in Pharmacology Committee in 2007.
BPS also organizes training supported by WISE, offering our members leadership skills, career guidance and work life balance workshops at no charge. To help our members attend our events we offer bursaries to help cover any caring costs incurred.
To address the limited female representation amongst the winners of our many awards and prizes the AstraZeneca Prize for Women in Pharmacology was set up in 2009. The 2012 winner Jane Mitchell is pictured at the top of the post on the right and has been filmed reflecting on the role of women in pharmacology. While our longer term aim is to encourage women to nominate themselves and each other across all of our awards, this prize gives us the opportunity to recognize our many female leaders and role models.
Finally, BPS has just introduced a new career break membership category allowing members taking extended leave to retain all of the benefits of membership without cost and regardless of gender.
It remains to be seen how our recent initiatives will improve further the gender balance within BPS, but early indications from data collected is positive. It is clear that alone we cannot do much to tackle gender imbalance in the workplace more broadly, but we are optimistic that our relatively small changes will go someway to effecting change for our members.
The UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, last week suggested that more women should go into engineering to help solve the skills shortage. He highlighted the vital role that women represent in engineering and the need to shift the mindset and reputation the industry has about engineering being a ‘dirty hands’ business suitable only for men.
Last month CaSE warned the Government that its proposals to introduce a ‘sunset clause’ for the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) could damage the science and engineering sector – and last week the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Home Office’s independent advisory group on immigration, agreed with our concerns. If the Government follows the new recommendation, it will be a victory for common sense.
A few months ago, Education for Engineering (E4E), the body representing the professional engineering community on education and skills matters, published the first in a series of reports on pupils’ participation and attainment in science and mathematics qualifications at key stage 4 in England.
The first report, entitled ‘Opportunity or Ability?’, examined national and regional GCSE results, as well as differences in participation and attainment in science and mathematics between co-ed and single sex schools in both the state-maintained and independent sectors. Read More
In the next two years, Labour will need to develop the policy detail to underpin its commitment to a fairer capitalism and a rebalanced economy. So how can science policy support this agenda?
Labour is now committed to an active industrial strategy that focuses on high performing sectors. Research and development-intensive sectors, including automotive, life sciences and aerospace are likely to be included. The TUC has long called for a sector led industrial strategy, so we welcome this commitment. Read More
On Monday, Research Councils UK announced that six of the Research Councils were looking to fill vacancies on their governing Councils. It probably isn’t the most engaging of our announcements but it could be classed as one of the most important. Why? Read More
The figures announced this week showing that UK employment has hit an all-time high are obviously welcome. If the UK is to recover its economic standing, and prosper in the future, then creating private sector jobs will be essential. But what kind of jobs should the UK be creating?
It is clear that if we are to rebalance the economy of this country away from the financial sectors, businesses that are built on science, engineering, and particularly physics will have a significant role to play. The Institute of Physics (IOP) has launched a report, in concert with Deloitte, that demonstrates how critical physics is to the continued existence of sectors of the economy that support more than a million jobs in the UK. Read More