The last 12 months have seen a great deal of attention given to our higher education system. I was at the heart of much of the debate last year as President of the National Union of Students, in the midst of the unprecedented anger, media questions about value for money and the perennial debate about students as consumers or co-producers. But for all the focus on fees and funding, the importance of ensuring talented British students are given useful information and adequate advice and guidance to progress to study subjects that will be intellectually stimulating and a vitally important contribution to our economy, has been largely forgotten.
So I am delighted to announce that with the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE), I will be leading a new national campaign, Talent 2030, to ensure young people gain access to the information they need and be encouraged to progress to careers in manufacturing and engineering. It's timely not just because there is so much emphasis on ensuring that universities and industry play their part in promoting future economic growth, but also because the university starters of 2030 are being born this year, and the people likely to recruit, train and employ them are at university right now.
By practically every measure the UK has one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, second only to the United States overall. But for all the positives, there is a looming problem. The support given to the brightest and the best school pupils to eventually progress onto careers in manufacturing and engineering remains fragile, with women progressing in particularly small numbers. Over the last few months, the Council for Industry and Higher Education (CIHE) has overseen a task force co-chaired by Professor Nigel Thrift (Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick) and Richard Greenhalgh (former Chairman, Unilever UK) looking at what is required of schools, colleges, universities, business and government to ensure the UK can leverage its potential in order to maximise our international competitiveness, and there are a series of recommendations which the Talent 2030 campaign will now pick up.
The most pressing recommendations centre on improving information about the changing nature and importance of green technology across our industries, better information on academic choices and the subsequent earnings premium and encouraging more young women to pursue manufacturing and engineering challenging the increasingly flawed myth that it is a male-dominated profession.
Talent 2030 will flag up relevant information and guidance, including activity directly in schools and with 13 year old pupils in year 9 onwards. Combating the fact there are still too many university applicants that aren't informed about specific degrees required for certain jobs, A levels needed for particular degrees or the GSCE subjects that will allow you to progress onto the relevant further study.
Every year there are thousands of 13 year olds who are either prevented or simply not given the right advice about choosing to study triple sciences at GSCE which shuts off a whole series of future career options. And the situation is often equally bad when it comes to A level choices for those who choose subjects that universities won't count when it comes to degree applications, or fail to choose certain A levels that are essential for certain degree subjects like physics or mathematics for many degrees in engineering and the physical sciences.
It's easy to start playing the blame game, pointing the finger at who needs to fix this; government, schools, careers services or universities. But the truth is, everyone has a responsibility to set about fixing it. Talent 2030 will bring together stakeholders from across education and industry to interact directly with students and their parents. Our website,
www.talent2030.org will be a hub of information, facts and case studies with plans for a schools roadshow and resources for teachers and careers advice, as well as activity with universities and industry to open the doors to young people.
It goes without saying that there are of course careers beyond manufacturing and engineering which are just as important. But I am particularly struck at the black spot in information which affect so many young people in relation to careers in manufacturing and engineering, particularly as these are careers where subject choices particularly matter and the quality of support can be so woeful.
At a time when the eventual contribution that pupils currently in our schools and future graduates will make to society is so important, this is a vital campaign to ensure the brightest and the best teenagers are supported to make the decisions that are right for them, and to help the UK realise its potential.