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Science degree accreditation needs a unifying framework

By 27.05.16

You’d be forgiven for missing it amid the clamour around the Higher Education White Paper, but another report that could have a far-reaching impact on the HE sector and the UK economy was published on the same day.

Enhancing science graduate employability

The Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability highlighted concerns over the employability of STEM graduates – particularly in specific areas of science – and recommended a role for the Science Council in overseeing a more coherent framework for degree accreditation in science. This follows a similar recommendation made by the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee in its 2012 report on Higher Education in STEM.

With over 30 science professional bodies involved in accreditation it would be easy to shy away again from this, but instead the Science Council will embrace the opportunity to work collectively to enhance the system of science degree accreditation. To do this effectively we need to arrive at a shared vision for degree accreditation in science and, given the focus of the Wakeham Review, its role in enhancing graduate employability.

We know that accreditation can be part of the solution; the experience in engineering and elsewhere tells us as much. But we also know that the way it has developed in science is piecemeal and at times incoherent. And with TEF on all our minds, who could have missed the references to course accreditation in the technical consultation also published last week?

Shaping our vision

To shape our vision, Professor Ian Campbell, Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Hertfordshire will convene a high-level steering group over the summer. Hertfordshire itself has focused heavily on employability and it’s notable that it has risen 75 places in the past two years in the HESA tables that measure graduate employment six months after qualifying. We hope to work in partnership with our professional bodies through our Degree Accreditation Forum to then convert this shared vision into reality.

In some places, it may be a case of not fixing what ain’t broke. The Wakeham Review identified the Royal Society of Chemistry’s accreditation process as a case study of good practice.  And while the biosciences emerged as a key area of concern, the Royal Society of Biology is already addressing many of the problem areas in its own accreditation system. In other areas, the steering group will be tasked with looking at how degree accreditation can work for programmes that currently fall between discipline gaps. We are already seeing far more innovation in provision and the rise of degree apprenticeships may well prove a game changer.

Stakeholder engagement

A of employers, institutions, professional bodies and others for the Review found that, although 60% of respondents considered graduates to have ‘all of the subject knowledge required’, only 25% agreed that graduates had the required ‘work ready’ skills. This may well reflect the traditional focus of accreditation in science and help to steer our future direction. As employers will be one of the ultimate beneficiaries of high-quality science graduates, we must consider their involvement in accreditation.

So we need an accreditation framework that’s robust, but also one that’s responsive to the demands of a 21 st Century economy. To get it right will ensure that we improve the career prospects of the next generation of scientists, and provide our employers with the supply of skilled talent we need to keep the economy growing.

The Science Council already works with universities to help employers and students get the most out of industry placements, using the standards of Registered Scientist as a framework for professional competence. Find out more.

Get in touch if you would like to know more about how to get involved with the Science Council’s work on degree accreditation. Or add your comment below.