One of the very positive aspects of the House of Lords is their ability to challenge the approach being taken by the Government of the day. In many cases these challenges are vital. However it is always concerning when competent and intelligent Peers choose to challenge matters that are clearly needed, even if their own background is not committed to such approaches. I confess that as a STEM Ambassador I am very passionate about the promotion of subjects covered by the themes of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Indeed the industry I work in relies extensively on all four of those themes, although the amount of Maths needed by most workers is very modest. There are some people who would argue very strongly for STEM to be expanded to include Arts and so become STEAM. I would personally have no problems if that was the case and indeed a great deal of the work we do includes Art related matters. However if a group of people is going to try to improve matters where there are major gaps, sometimes it is necessary to be more focused and so I am not strongly of the view that STEAM is critical at the moment as we face a future where huge numbers of engineers are going to be needed in a nation that is being forced to ban the introduction of engineers from nations that have previously been very open to our nation. As most people will know, whenever a series of themes are promoted, the people who may represent other themes can feel left out. As someone who is a White, Male, Middle Aged person, and who would like to participate in politics but doesn’t support any of the political parties I sometimes wish there was a way of getting involved, but a great deal of the promotional work focuses on young people and has a specific focus on gender and ethnicity because these are the areas where there is a major gap in our nations provision when it comes to all political approaches. The same view will be felt by people who are involved in Arts and indeed in other subjects but no one with any credibility in education should have understood the fact that we need STEM subjects to be promoted beyond others and indeed for a strong focus on involving female students in these subjects. It is therefore very disappointing that Tessa Blackstone who is a Baroness with a strong background in education made the following statement during a debate on the theme of Post-18 Education and Funding Review:
“I welcome the recommendation to return to government grants to make up for the loss of fee income but regret that it is focused on STEM subjects. We must stop perpetuating the myth that science and engineering courses hugely outweigh others in their usefulness and value to the economy and society. For example, courses that prepare people for jobs in the creative industries, financial services, business or public sector management, as well as in education or social work, are as important. Can the Minister say categorically whether all undergraduate courses will have their funding made up by grant if fees are reduced to £7,500?”
Of course I personally would support reducing the fees for all students, but to demand equal approach when STEM subjects are vital is not helpful and it would have been a great deal easier if Tessa had taken the trouble to welcome the reduction for STEM subjects because they are vital and then gone on to call for a wider focus on other subjects. The need for students to consider studying STEM subjects is not a myth, it is widely recognised gap in our nations provision!