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back to article Slash tuition fees for STEM students, biz boss body begs UK.gov

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is demanding that the government take action on the skills shortage in tech and engineering, proposing lower tuition fees for courses and new training for existing workers. The CBI said that a survey it conducted with survey haus Pearson last year showed that 42 per cent of companies …

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All bullshit

There is no skills shortage: there is a skills shortage *at low wages*. What companies want is to pay a top-class STEM graduate £16k/year, and until we have enough STEM graduates for that to be the wage they will moan about skills shortages. A skills shortage is where there aren't enough skilled employees to fill the vacancies at any wage. If you cannot fill your vacancies at a low wage, it isn't a skills shortage, it's that you are paying shit wages.

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Re: All bullshit

While I agree with the main thrust of your argument, it isn't that simple. Of course, the CBI wants to be able to employ Elbonians at a pittance to do the job and will argue with the skills shortage in order to get this. Wonder what solution UKIP will come up with?

Nevertheless, it is also true that labour markets are not entirely elastic: you can't just move people around with higher/lower wages (families, assets, etc. add inertia) or train them to do XYZ. If there is an aggregate demand that exceeds easily available resources then raising the price will not help much. The net result might be to force companies in the sector out of business - this might be because they are uncompetitive (for various reasons) in the area - not wanting to get into a debate about that simply to highlight that it's not always that straightforward.

Business is perfectly right to lobby for its interest but also able to dust off some of the old style cooperations with colleges that used to work well and still appears* to work reasonably well in places like Germany.

* apprenticeships routinely go in and out of fashion depending upon other macroeconomic factors. 10 years ago school leavers couldn't get an apprenticeship for love nor money, now even though competition at university is higher than it used to be, companies can't find enough apprentices. In 1990s it became fashionable to farm off older employers for early retirement…

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But conversely, with my utilitarian hat on

Surely it's better to have a load of STEM graduates at 16k a year, than a load of <insert personal bete-noire qualification>?

Surely the current issue is that if any degree is going to land you in £27k+ of debt and whatever job you may get at the end of it is going to be £16k a year, then you're just going to pick something fun.

If there's every any hope of this f'in mess being sorted out, then at least having a work-base with some tangible skills is more beneficial.

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Economic signalling

I suppose attracting more students by paying more was also part of the discussion ... no?

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Re: Economic signalling

Of course not. Since any STEM student who was motivated by the thought of earning more than 16K would be working in banking anyway. By keeping wages low they attract only the truly dedicated !

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Flame

Too bloody right!!

Tuition fees should be based on their value to the economy and to society.. i.e. if Engineers are in high demand, engineering degrees should be lower cost and/or subsidised. Those that elect to study far less useful subjects like "David Beckham Studies" should be charged more to pay for those subsidies. Agreed this might not cover all the costs, but the gains in productivity and ultimately tax revenue for having more STEM workers available would easily outweigh the additional costs.

I keep seeing articles about Uni-grads working in jobs that have no relation to their degree.. what's the point of that? OK, i can understand that some industries can be difficult to get into, but if a significant proportion of students never get into their subjects then they have wasted their time and money as well as the taxpayers.

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Re: Too bloody right!!

>what's the point of that

The point is to abolish youth unemployment by taking all 18-21 year olds off the market and having them pay 10k/year for the privilege. Even YTS paid you

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erm it's simpler than that.

Just make tuition debt tax deductible.

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Anonymous Coward

And double the fees for anything ...

with media, politics, communication, social, marketing or environment in the title.

Triple for everything under the Arts and Humanities umbrella.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And double the fees for anything ...

So where does that put the environmental scientist daughter of a friend of ours who does research into improved methods of ensuring water quality (paid for by a water company)? And why, given the size of our business with mainland Europe, do you want to discriminate against languages graduates? And why do you want to make it harder for software companies to employ psychology graduates to fix the user-unfriendly interfaces engineers come up with (I am a retired software engineer, my user interfaces sucked, I needed someone to tell me how to fix them.)

It is not as easy as you think to identify "useful" degrees.

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Re: And double the fees for anything ...

It is not as easy as you think to identify "useful" degrees

Proved by the fact that many people always pick "media degrees" as useless without looking at either how much those graduates can earn (useful to student); how big the UK media sector is (useful to UK) or how hard it is to offshore that kind of work (UK media graduates therefore useful to UK Business).

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CBI: You're wasting your breath

As somebody old enough to have benefited from having all tuition fees paid, and a student grant, all at a time when GDP was far lower, it pains me to say it, but the CBI are barking up the wrong tree. Successive governments have buggered up the lower and higher education system, such that it is now always very expensive, half of it is crap, and too little is focused on what employers (including the public sector) need. There is no political understanding, no will, no vision to change this situation.

If the CBI want a solution, they need to devise it themselves, and "government should do it" is not a solution, looking at the track record. And part of that solution could involve closing the classics, economics and politics departments at Oxford and Cambridge - too many of their alumnii have contributed directly to this mess.

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When I finished my STEM there were no jobs

Or rather there were no companies willing to pay a decent wage for a recent graduate, so I left the country.

The real problem is the complete lack of respect for scientists and engineers from politicians and society at large.

In other societies the title Engineer commands respect. Not in the UK.

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Re: When I finished my STEM there were no jobs

As Ledswinger said, the quality of STEM education seems to have been declining in the UK. In Electronics Engineering, new graduates are often pretty useless when it comes to design work. But the degree at least gives them the basics, so after a couple of years of mentoring and practise they can become useful members of the team. I suspect that's part of the reason graduate wages aren't great.

The other part of it is that too many people can call themselves engineers these days, so yes the respect for engineers has declined. However its definitely possible to get decent wages, particularly in fields that are more difficult and in demand. RF Engineering and DSP are a couple of good examples.

I think the final part of the problem is Engineers themselves.. we're next to useless at negotiation compared to other parts of the company (e.g. sales, marketing etc), so on average our wages are lower, despite the fact engineers can make or break a company just as easily. If you believe the psychiatric studies its probably because most of us are Autistic to varying degrees! in fact if you believe an old 'el reg article, we're cold and dead inside, with no empathy for others.. sounds like most engineers that I know :-)

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Anonymous Coward

There's never enough...

youngsters with about three years full-time experience behind them, so they've actually learnt enough to be useful, but they're still young enough to be cheap and unencumbered by things like children that need picking up from nursery / school, spouses that expect them to be home at a reasonable time, etc.

Maybe the industry could stop treating everybody over the age of 35 as over the hill or only to be considered for management roles (which, of course, you can only get if you have management experience).

I know an engineer who decided to retrain as a lawyer - one of the reasons was this one. In law, age and experience are actually seen as valuable!

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Experience levels

Experience is often misunderstood, particularly by the people who think programming is a young person's game.

In the early 1980s, when went to university and entered the industry, the amount of experience needed to be a valuable contributor was pretty low.

At the time, many of the programmers - especially COBOL programmers - had a 3 month training course before they entered industry. Many organisations took their brighter filing clerks, sent them to training for 3 months, and now had a staff of programmers.

Our university courses managed to cover a large % of the known universe of computing. It was a big step up from the 3-month programmer. A graduate was a pretty valuable and useful thing.

These days this no longer holds true. Each field in computing has got vastly more complex and you need years of experience to be really productive.. All a degree says is that you seem to have the capability to hold your head above water and might turn into something useful in a while.

This should skew the industry towards older workers. Not all of them though. Our industry is one of constant change and people need to constantly update and refresh their skills. If I look back at the stuff I learned at university, none of it is really relevant now. I've kept up reading/experimenting at an average rate of approx 5-10 hours per week. If you're one of those people who thinks you can just sit back now you have a degree then you don't belong in this industry.

Unfortunately there are enough of the old slackers to build the "can't teach an old dog new tricks" myth whereby you need to refresh the staff to get a handle on new tech.

Companies that operate like that do themselves a disservice by removing the experience and guidance that is needed to train up entry level staff. They also shed staff that are just entering their prime.

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Anonymous Coward

I think there are several reasons for the perceived lack of STEM students.

Firstly, the death of the old Polytechnic. The old Polys used to do more practical based courses, rather than the more theoretical courses the Unis did. Now, the old Polys hit the headlines for what many people feel are their worthless vanity degree courses.

Secondly, industry needs to work with Unis to provide more placement courses. Friends at Uni who did sandwich/placement courses had no problems getting jobs afterwards - sometimes on a good wage too!

Finally, industry needs to make the effort to train people. Education doesn't stop when you leave school/college/uni. It's a life long process, and expecting people to walk out of Uni/College/etc with all the skills they'll ever need is insane.

Ultimately, it has to be a joint effort between industry and education.

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Surely if anything the universities crank out more worthless vanity degrees. BA in history for instance.

Polytechs certainly are less pompous organisations that seem to focus far more on the education.

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Anonymous Coward

Cognitive dissonance - again

second time in two days I have experienced this.

Not enough engineers coming into the market = famine.

Famine = prices (wages rise)

Wages rise = incentive for more people to study engineering

More people studying engineering = course can charge more for engineering.

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Open source or closed source funding?

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is demanding that the government take action on the skills shortage in tech and engineering, proposing lower tuition fees for courses and new training for existing workers.

Yes, we can fund training from government spending, if you like, boys. (And I bet they are boys.) But in that case, you and your corporations will have to pay higher taxes. Deal?

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Re: Open source or closed source funding?

They could start by paying their taxes in the first place.

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FAIL

Lower tutition fees please

I thought I'd take up with the open university to brush up some of my skills maybe grab some more points towards another qualification.

The last course I signed up for 10 yrs ago was about £550 for a 60 point course(1 yrs worth of part time study), so I browsed through the website looking for a suitable computer/techie/engie course... found a decent 60 pointer... then thought "whats the price?" thinking it would be in the region of 1200-1500 quid

FIVE thousand quid!!!!!!!!!!

Oh well ... best i remain just a plane ol' unedukated injerneer.

PS if the CBI was serious about lack of skills, why do most of they members play "Poach the decent staff" with each other instead of training up new ones?

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Academia != education

You're falling in the trap of thinking that education only comes through universities. That's nuts.

Universities are primarily academic institutions. That some education might happen there is almost accidental - particularly in post graduate work. The web provides so many accessible ways to learn stuff that don't involve university.

30 years ago, attending university made sense. They have libraries with all the literature, they had a computer and they had smart people. Now access to those resources has changed: the literature is online, you have a computer and the smart people are online too. What does the university really provide?

A couple of months back I decided to learn a lot more than I knew about FPGAs. Instead of taking the digital design course at the university (of which at least 50% was a bunch of number theory I was not interested in), I bought an FPGA board (sub $100) and hit the vendor's online training. Total cost: sub $100, and I got to do it when I wanted, so no loss of earnings.

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Re: Lower tutition fees please

PS if the CBI was serious about lack of skills, why do most of they members play "Poach the decent staff" with each other instead of training up new ones?

Short-termism and stupidity.

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The liberal arts people will game this

Just rename everything to "science". We already have political science, social science, ...

How long before history gets rebranded as "past science"?

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Re: The liberal arts people will game this

"How long before history gets rebranded as "past science"?"

I believe that should be "temporal science" :-)

same thing in Engineering.. "sanitation engineer", "meat distribution engineer" to name a couple..

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Re: The liberal arts people will game this

Already been done - when the govt announced it wanted more STEM graduates to go into teaching, and offered bursaries, the number went up 500% overnight.

Of course most of them were domestic-scientists and sport-scientists

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Anonymous Coward

me too

agree with the above, this is just the usual bollocks from the tories CBI, pay decent wages and provide decent conditions.

or employers could train people themselves if everyone else is so useless at it?

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Engineering Institutes provide the recognition

Most "STEM" graduates are viewed from a business sense as potentially good material that needs several years of real-world application before they become recognised as a valuable engineering resource that can command good pay and conditions.

No-one has yet mentioned the role of the engineering institutions that provide the backbone for the recognition of chartered engineers as those who have the necessary academic qualifications plus a period of recognized engineering achievement(s). They have the post nominals C.Eng etc., which can, for many, command good pay.

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A new way

If you seriously believe most of what's being said in the comments, the solution is for Companies to bypass the Universities AND the Government:

For example, a group of companies get together to set up their own Training Center. (Can't call it a University because then the government can regulate what must be taught, etc.) Students may apply to a company and, if accepted, will be sent to the Training Center tuition free. In return for that, the student must sign a contract to work at the company for some minimum length of time after they "graduate." If they are not good enough to graduate, they are dismissed with no job and no debt. During the training, part of their work may be as interns at the sponsoring company to get practical experience. If they do a poor job as interns, they are dismissed with no job and no debt. To avoid people gaming the system, part of the contract is a non-compete clause so the students can't take a free education and use it to work for a competing company. The classes at the training center may be taught by existing workers from the "owning" companies, not professors with tenure and the simple goal of publishing papers.

This solves the problems listed above such as: Universities spend too much time teaching things not relevant to the job. Graduates have no experience so are not usable right out of school. Graduates don't earn enough to pay off loans, Companies can't get enough new employees. Tuition costs too much. Professors earn too much. This takes the place of an Apprenticeship.

The only downside is the "graduate" does not have an actual diploma. However, I think most other tech workers will agree that, if you know enough to do a good job, the degree is not relevant.

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Re: A new way

Isn't this called an apprenticeship ?

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Re: A new way, won't make the hay

1. Businesses don't want to pay for training.

2. You make it sound as if a STEM graduate can be taught in a few months. It takes 2 years of A levels followed by 3 years as an undergraduate.

3. Business doesn't think 5 years ahead. They want someone now, whom they'd like to sack in 18 months.

4. Graduates want degrees. A degree allows one job mobility and some negotiating rights.

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Re: A new way

"Professors earn too much."

Rubbish. The average lecturer in the UK earns about £45k/year. This is after eight years of university education, a postdoc or two publishing in internationally leading journals, followed by a job and another five years experience or so. Find me another job requiring a PhD, eight years' experience and an international reputation that pays £45k/year.

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Here we go again

Sounds like what happened in the late eighties -

big push for engineers + 3-4 year degree course > graduates coming out to find a job market full of newly redundant engineers fighting for the same jobs

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FAIL

Meh

There's been a perennial so-called "skills shortage" for the last 50 years. And the CBI have done... what? since they were formed in 1965?

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Trollface

they still won't pay

At least not at home. They'll happily pay less for incompetance from SE Asia.

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The price is right!

Why would someone do a difficult, mentally tiring job all day for the same wage as a person who can stare vacantly out of a shop window and pretend to know something about phones. The wage differentials these days are ridiculous; I have seen software jobs being offered at the same rate as admin staff or labourers. Maybe the job shortage is due to so many people leaving the technically arduous engineering world to become plasterers or plumbers, where they can earn much more and worry less.

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